Flu jabs save lives: why not have one?
This is the flu jab time of year. Everyone over 65 and people with long standing diseases will be offered the injection by their GP.
But is it worth it? Why bother with an injection for something as mild as the flu?
One of the problems is that people use the word "flu" when they only have a cold. True influenza makes even the healthiest person feel unwell with a high temperature and general aches and pains.
For most people influenza is unpleasant but not dangerous. For older people, and some with long standing disease, influenza it can lead to serious illness such as bronchitis and pneumonia.
In turn this leads to hospital admissions and, in some tragic cases, even death. And an increased death rate always follows an increase in the number of cases of flu.
The flu jab can cut hospital admission by 60% and deaths following flu by 40%. The Government's push to ensure far more people benefit from a flu jab is not only motivated by altruism - it is also good economic sense. Reduce hospital admission by 60% and a huge amount of money will be saved.
So, who should be vaccinated? As well as everyone over 65 we also need to protect everyone with heart disease, respiratory disease - including asthma - kidney disease, diabetes and those with reduced immunity such as people being treated for some cancers. We also need to protect anyone living in residential or nursing homes.
There is no evidence that it is needed for healthcare workers.
What I find strange is that, with the overwhelming evidence that the injection saves lives, why do some people refuse? The commonest comment I hear is "ever since I had the jab I suffered from flu". As the injection is given at a time when there are numerous viruses around it is not surprising that some people pick up a bug at the same time as getting the injection. But this is a coincidence.
The injection does not work by giving a mild dose of the flu. All it can cause is aching at the injection site and, very rarely, a temperature and aching muscles, but these settle in a couple of days.
Another argument is that "I had the injection and still suffered from the flu several times throughout the winter." Some of these people did not have true influenza - only a cold. But the injection does not protect against every strain of flu. There are hundreds of different strains and impossible to protect against them all.
But we do know that the different strains come round in predictable cycles. Every year the World Health Organisation predicts the most likely three strains and they are included in the vaccine. So far they have been right.
At the moment all the GP practices in South Devon are working hard to ensure that everyone who needs the flu jab is offered it. The aim is to ensure that at least 60% of people over 65 are protected.
We also have to trawl through our computers and records to find all the other "at risk" patients.
Nationally eight million doses will be given over a few weeks. This has created a huge amount of work but could also save thousands of lives.
Every winter there are headlines about full hospitals and a "crisis in the NHS". Every winter many people die as a result of the flu.
We could make this winter an exception.