It seems wise to have your flu jab available as soon as it is available. But what if waiting a month or two could actually give you better protection against the virus?
This is an interesting proposition being investigated by doctors in Leicester.
In a study involving 400 healthcare workers, they are looking at whether the flu vaccine is more effective when given in November, some two months after the typical September vaccination program begins each year.
The idea is that immunity to the virus can dwindle over time, even a few weeks making a difference – so a moratorium on vaccinations would mean people’s defenses get stronger in the depths of winter. This is when the flu is at its peak.
This year’s flu immunization program is being billed as the largest in UK history, with more than 35 million people eligible for the free jab.
As study leader, Dr Manish Pareek, Consultant for Infectious Diseases at the Leicester Royal Infirmary, explains: ‘There is some evidence that suggests that the effectiveness of the flu vaccine may be reduced at the end of the flu season if the vaccine is given too early. Is.
‘We want to see if it’s time to offer flu vaccines that provide the best protection throughout the flu season.’
The flu typically spreads between October and May in the UK, with cases peaking in January and February. And while the number of coronavirus cases was low last winter, the flu claims an average of 17,000 lives a year in England – and there are concerns this year will be particularly bad. The declining number of flu cases during the pandemic has been explained by measures such as masks and hand washing that can also reduce the spread of flu.
Also, a process called viral interference, in which infection with one virus temporarily prevents the capture of another virus, may have protected people who had the coronavirus from catching the flu.
This is because interferon, a protective protein made by the immune system when we are attacked by a virus, also inhibits all other viruses.
This year’s flu immunization program is being billed as the largest in UK history, with more than 35 million people eligible for free jabs.
The declining number of flu cases during the pandemic is explained by measures such as masks and hand washing, which can also reduce the spread of flu.
This includes, for the first time, all children aged 50 to 64, along with children up to the age of 11 in secondary school. Health Secretary Sajid Javid says the aim is to build a ‘wall of protection’ amid fears that the flu could return this winter, putting the NHS under additional pressure.
There are concerns that our natural immunity against the virus has declined because of the low prevalence of flu over the past winter. In addition, the decline in global flu cases may have made it difficult to create an effective vaccine, as the jab is improved each year to protect against particular strains likely to spread over the coming winter.
Merely getting the jab may not be enough, though – when we do get it can also be important.
Several studies have suggested that the vaccine gradually becomes less effective. A 2017 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US found that protection against catching the flu peaked 14 days after vaccination, then dropped by 11 percent at one month.
Immunity to some types of flu waned more rapidly than others — and in some cases all protection was lost after five months or so, reported the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.
In the UK context, this means that he may have poor protection in September when the vaccination campaign begins, then in February when the flu season is at its peak.
To learn more, Dr Pareek is studying healthcare workers, half of whom had flu illness in September 2020 and half of whom were vaccinated in November 2020. All gave routine blood samples, starting at the time of vaccination and ending in May. Check if the level of infection-fighting antibodies has dropped over time.
The study will be run again this winter – and this time monitoring flu cases as well as antibody levels.
Pareek told Good Health that if subsequent vaccinations lead to a significant drop in flu cases, it could push back the national flu vaccination program.
However, there is also an additional concern that any subsequent vaccinations like this may be too late for some people to have maximum protection – and so a balance has to be struck, Dr. Pareek says. ‘People have a natural tendency to put things off until the last minute, so you may find that they skip vaccinations until it’s too late to get a lot of protection before the flu hits .’
This is because the flu jab takes time to work. The vaccine prompts the immune system to make antibodies that look for the flu virus in the blood. But antibody production is complex and takes two to three weeks to build up to sufficient levels.
Delaying the start of the vaccination program can also lead to logistics problems, with the same number of people getting vaccinated in a short period of time. As Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at the University of Reading, explains: ‘Flu season doesn’t really happen until January, but we have to be careful because if flu season starts earlier than usual, a large number of people are vulnerable. can be abandoned.’
Of course, any changes to the vaccination schedule won’t be immediate and no one should wait to have a vaccine this winter.
Ian Jones, a professor of virology at the University of Reading, says, ‘Getting vaccinated is more important than trying at the right time. ‘Elderly people, in particular, should get their vaccine when called upon – it’s by far the safest option.’
There may be another benefit to having your flu jab. According to a recent study, the jab may also protect against some of the severe effects of covid.
A study of nearly 75,000 COVID patients worldwide found…