7th MAY 2020 - Page 19

Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Father Eugene
O’Hagan from
Irish classical
musical trio
The Priests
talks to Gail
Bell Page 31
Should you sign up for
the new 4-in-1 flu jab?
By Pat Hagan
ITH memories
of last winter’s
flu-mageddon —
when the virulent
‘Aussie’ flu nearly
doubled the UK’s
annual death toll — many might be
understandably nervous about the
approaching flu season.
Experts have long warned that it’s
a question of when, not if, another
flu pandemic hits. The last one, in
1918, led to the deaths of between
50-100 million people and has been
described as one of the deadliest
human disasters ever.
Flu is one of the world’s most
dangerous viruses — thanks to
its ability to mutate — and every
winter poses a serious threat to the
nation’s wellbeing and the health
service’s ability to cope.
The flu virus circulates all year
round but rates spike from early
December through to February or
March when we spend more time
indoors and in close proximity to
each other — allowing it to spread
more easily. In anticipation of this
year’s flu season, over the next
six weeks up to 26 million people
across the UK will be offered a free
vaccine on the NHS.
This programme targets at-risk
groups which include the over-65s,
young children, pregnant women
and anyone with severe chronic
illness such as asthma, heart failure
or diabetes.
This huge public health exercise
marks the beginning of an annual
battle which starts in February,
when the World Health Organisation
(WHO) predicts which strains will
present the greatest threat over the
coming 12 months.
However, vaccine production
takes six months or so, during
which time the chosen strains can
mutate, or new ones can emerge.
Hence, the best hope for any jab is
that it protects around 60 per cent
of the population.
Choosing which strains to include
is a guessing game and although the
WHO gets it right roughly eight out
of ten times, in some years the jab
is much less effective.
After last year’s vaccine failed to give full protection,
there’s a new range of advanced injections on offer. so...
Which is what happened in the
UK last winter. The vaccine given to
millions of NHS patients had little or
no effect because one of the strains
it targeted, H3N2 (dubbed Aussie
flu because it had already triggered
the worst flu outbreak there in a
decade) had mutated.
This year the NHS is introducing
two new forms of flu jab — a
‘turbo’ jab for the over-65s and a
four-strain ‘super’ jab for younger
But how well will any of the
jabs available safeguard you and
your loved ones? We spoke to the
experts to find out.
Last winter’s jab worked for
fewer than one in three of the
over-65s given it — and many of
the 15,000 flu deaths in the UK were
older patients. The problem is our
immune systems enter a process
of age-related decline — this can
happen in some people from as
early as middle age onwards, some
experts believe.
It’s this irreversible decline,
known as immunosenescence,
which explains why flu jabs often
fail to generate the desired reaction
in the elderly.
As a result of immunosenescence,
vaccines that would fire up a
30-year-old’s immune system to
defend against invading viruses
have a much weaker effect on
someone in their 60s or 70s.
‘The truth is we don’t really know
at what point immunosenescence
begins,’ says Professor John
Oxford, a virologist at Queen Mary
University of London.
‘But it’s possible for some people
it’s as early as their 40s, when other
Caption style to go ini n this space Caption style to go ini n this space
visible age-related changes such as
greying hair or wrinkles also start
to appear.’
This year, the Department of
Health is introducing a new turbocharged flu jab specifically designed
to boost the immune response in
the elderly to make the jab more
Called Fluad, the vaccine targets
three flu strains that have been
identified as those most likely to
be a threat to older people. Unlike
the vaccine for younger adults, it
contains a new ingredient known as
an adjuvant.
Adjuvants can increase the immediate side-effects, such
as local pain and swelling at the injection site, because
they work by attracting more immune system cells to the
area – and it’s the immune system response that triggers
the side-effects,
Get up early
for the best
DON’T dilly dally: As the vaccine
can take up to three weeks to take
full effect, those at risk should
aim to be immunised by midNovember at the latest, ahead
of December, when numbers
affected really start to rise.
‘I was involved in some research
several years ago which showed
that young students given flu
vaccines produced a full immune
system response within four to five
days,’ says virologist Professor
John Oxford.
‘But for over-65s it was more likely
to be three weeks or so
‘But it’s never too late — even if
the virus is already in circulation,
it’s still worth getting the jab as it
could remain a threat for months
to come up until the spring.’ After
that, the virus doesn’t disappear
completely, but the number
affected declines dramatically,
as we tend to stop congregating
inside together so much.
Some research suggests the time
of day you get vaccinated against
flu could determine how much
protection you get.
A 2016 study by scientists from
Birmingham University, published
in the journal Vaccine, found that
elderly patients injected in the
morning (between 9am and 11am)
produced larger quantities of
flu-fighting antibodies than those
who got the jab in the afternoon
(between 3pm and 5pm).
Research suggests our immune
response varies in line with the
body’s internal clock.
‘Quite how big the added benefit
of a morning vaccine is remains
unclear — it may only be a little,’
says Professor Andrew
Easton, a specialist
in viral infections.
One simple
way to bolster
the effects
of flu jabs
could be
taking a
course of
— socalled good
bacteria —
beforehand. A
study in the journal
Drug Design, Development and
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