Winter is coming. No, this isn’t a Game of Thrones re-run—winter really is coming! Soon, we’ll all start to feel the chill. And for many people, the season isn’t just about wrapping up warm in front of the fireplace with mulled wine. Unfortunately, the winter months bring with them the risk of flu, but not everyone believes in flu vaccines.
The flu vaccine is free to people who are at an increased risk of getting the flu. Some workplaces may offer it to their employees, or you can pay for it yourself. We know some people that are sceptical about the vaccines, so we are here to bust some myths!
1. Getting the flu jab will give you the flu
Frankly, it’s amusing—the whole reason you would need the jab is to stop yourself from getting the flu! The flu injection that’s given to adults contains inactivated flu viruses, so it can’t give you the flu. Inactivated means that the virus isn’t live. The nasal spray that children have does contain a live flu virus, but it’s been weakened so much that it can’t give your child the flu, either. What this all means is that your body will be able to produce the antibodies it needs when the time comes. So if you do come into contact with the actual flu virus during the winter months, it’s able to defend itself from catching the flu.
2. I have a strong immune system, I don’t need flu vaccines
While you might have a strong immune system (the defence system that helps to protect you from harmful invaders), this won’t necessarily protect you from the flu. Getting the flu vaccine not only helps to protect you but also those around you. Anyone can get the flu, even if you’re generally healthy and it’s very easy to pass on to others. It’s one of the reasons that healthcare professionals and carers are also offered the vaccine. Even if your immune system is strong, the people you care for might still be at risk.
The only way to help protect yourself from the flu is by getting the annual flu vaccine and following some protective measures that you should incorporate into your daily life anyway, such as washing your hands regularly with soap, covering your mouth and nose if you cough and sneeze, and just keeping away from those who are down with the flu.
3. It’s only worth getting flu vaccines once you’re unwell with the flu
Woah, let’s back up quickly here—the whole point of the vaccine is prevention. Once you’re already ill with the flu, it’s best not to get the vaccine. Common side effects of any vaccine may include a slight headache and sore arm. And if you’re feeling unwell, your healthcare professional may ask you to wait until you feel better before you receive the flu vaccine. You won’t be protected until about two weeks after you have the vaccine, so it’s best to get it while you’re feeling well.
4. I had the vaccine last year, so I’m covered this year
Not necessarily, no. The strains of flu change and mutate a lot, so the World Health Organization (WHO) meets every year to decide what strains of the virus the vaccine needs to protect against. This means that every year, the vaccine is updated to match as closely as possible to the current season’s flu virus. This is so that people who choose to have the vaccine are protected from the flu as much as possible for that year. If you are relying on your vaccine from previous years, they may not be able to combat the mutated virus for the following year and you will still be prone to the flu.
5. I can only get flu vaccines from my GP
It’s not just your GP who can give you the vaccine—you can get it from any health professional! Both the private and public sectors in Hong Kong give flu vaccine options so you are spoilt for choice. The Hong Kong Department of Health has also introduced subsidy schemes and free vaccines for the communities most at risk (click here for more information). In case you are not applicable to these schemes, you can also visit paediatricians (family doctors exclusively for children) or gynaecologist-obstetricians (doctors specialising in women's reproductive health) for flu vaccinations. Really, it's much more convenient to get your vaccine done than you think, so no excuses!
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