Should I have a flu jab this winter?
Who can have the flu jab?
This year the NHS is offering the flu vaccine to:
- adults aged 65 and over
- people with certain health problems such as heart or lung problems, or conditions that affect the immune system (including children in at-risk groups from 6 months of age)
- pregnant women
- people living with someone who's at high risk from coronavirus (on the NHS shielded patient list)
- children who were aged 2 or 3 on 31 August 2020
- children in primary school
- children in year 7 (secondary school)
- frontline health or social care workers.
You can also speak to your GP about having a flu jab if:
- you live in a residential or nursing home
- you're the main carer for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if you get ill.
Later in the year, the flu vaccine may be given to people aged 50 to 64.
Could the flu jab give me the flu?
The flu vaccine is not a live vaccine, which means it doesn’t contain an active virus. This means it can’t give you the flu, even if you have a weak immune system. It is safe to have the flu jab while you’re having treatment for prostate cancer, including treatments such as radiotherapy, hormone therapy and chemotherapy.
Some people get mild side effects after having a flu jab. These can include pain or swelling where the injection is given, headache, slight fever, shivering, feeling tired and aching muscles. These mild side effects usually only last a day or two, whereas the symptoms of flu are much more severe and can last for up to two weeks.
To limit the number of times you have to visit your GP surgery during the coronavirus pandemic, you could ask to have a flu jab at the same time as having a PSA test or hormone therapy injection. If it’s your first ever flu jab or hormone therapy injection, your GP may suggest having them on separate days in case you have a reaction to one of them.
Does having prostate cancer increase my risk of flu?
Prostate cancer itself doesn’t usually affect the immune system. But some treatments for prostate cancer can lower your body’s ability to fight infections. This means the flu could be particularly severe for certain people with prostate cancer. These include men having:
- clinical trial drugs that affect the immune system, such as olaparib (Lynparza®) or pembrolizumab (Keytruda®).
If you’re having one of these treatments, catching the flu could make you very ill. Your doctor or nurse will probably recommend having a flu jab to help protect you against this. They may give you specific guidance on when to have the vaccine – ask about this if you’re unsure.
Other common treatments for prostate cancer, including surgery, radiotherapy to the prostate and hormone therapy, don’t affect the immune system. So they won’t increase your risk of catching or becoming very ill from the flu.
Does the flu jab protect against coronavirus?
The flu vaccine does not protect against coronavirus. At the moment, the main ways to avoid catching and spreading coronavirus are to wash your hands regularly, and follow the government's guidance on social distancing.
This winter, people are at risk of catching both the flu and coronavirus. This means it’s particularly important to protect yourself against both illnesses. Having a flu jab is an important way to lower your risk of catching the flu, while social distancing will help protect you and other people against coronavirus.
Protecting yourself against the flu will also help to protect the NHS, which is likely to be very busy over autumn and winter. In turn, we hope this will help cancer services to continue as normal.
15 October 2020
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