We know that colds and flu are triggers for around 90% of people with asthma and that if they catch viruses during the colder months their asthma can get much worse.
This can result in long periods of illness or even being admitted to hospital. Although you can't always avoid common cold viruses, the seasonal flu vaccine can protect you against some of the flu viruses that are expected to be most prominent in the UK during the winter.
The flu vaccine is free to people who are eligible to receive it. Adults are given one dose of the flu vaccine usually sometime between September and early November. If you have asthma and haven't been invited by your GP practice to have a flu vaccine by the end of September, get in touch with your surgery to ask for one.
You’re eligible for the flu vaccine if:
- You’re aged 65 years and over (ie born on or before 31 March 1949)
- You’re six months or over and have a health condition that is known to put people at risk of the complications of flu. People with asthma who are continuously or repeatedly on steroid preventer inhalers or steroid tablets are included on the list. So are people with asthma who have had to be admitted to hospital because they’ve had an asthma attack.
- You’re at any stage of pregnancy, including if you’ve become pregnant during the winter period
- You live in long stay residential homes
- You’re the main carer of an older or disabled person
- You’re a frontline health/social care worker (vaccinated by your employer as part of an occupational health programme).
Children and the seasonal flu vaccine
From 1 September this year, a single dose of a new nasal spray flu vaccine will be offered every year to all children aged two and three years as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme. In some parts of the country pre-school and primary school children aged four to ten years will also be offered the vaccine. Over time as the programme rolls out, all children between the ages of 2 and 16 will be offered the nasal vaccine every year.
The seasonal flu vaccine is recommended for all children with asthma over six months who are continuously or repeatedly on a steroid preventer inhaler or steroid tablets. It's also recommended for any child over six months who’s been admitted to hospital with a lower respiratory tract infection. As the nasal spray is more effective in children than the injected vaccine, from September 2013 children aged between two and eighteen with long-term health conditions (including asthma) will be offered the nasal vaccine rather than the injection. There’s still an injectable vaccine licensed for ages six months and over.
Eligible children aged six months to eight years will need two doses of the flu vaccine, given at least four weeks apart, if having it for the first time in their life. If they have had the vaccine before, they only need one dose. Children aged nine and over only need one dose.
Pregnancy and the seasonal flu vaccine
All women at any stage of pregnancy are advised to have the seasonal flu vaccine. The flu vaccine is safe to have when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
Flu vaccines have an excellent safety record with only minor side effects that usually disappear within a day or two. The vaccine can’t cause the flu it protects against because it’s inactive. However, people may experience some side effects. These are usually limited to some soreness and swelling around the site of the injection, headache, fever, shivering and fatigue.
Those who shouldn't have the seasonal flu vaccine
Almost everybody can have the vaccine, but you should not be vaccinated if you have had a serious allergy to the vaccine in the past. If you are allergic to hen’s eggs you may not be able to have certain types of flu vaccine – check with your GP.
- If you have a fever, the vaccination may be delayed until you are better.
- If you're not sure if you should have it, talk to your doctor or practice nurse.
Angela Jones, Asthma Nurse Specialist at Asthma UK, says: “Colds and flu are triggers for around 90% of people with asthma; we strongly recommend anyone with asthma to consider having the seasonal flu jab and autumn is the right time to do this, before the virus begins to circulate. If you haven't already, make an appointment to have your flu jab as soon as possible."