Expert advice

Medicines management: Why should nurses have the flu vaccination? 

With a predicted doubling of influenza cases in the UK this year, it is more important than ever that front-line staff are vaccinated, says medicines management expert Matt Griffiths. 

With a predicted doubling of influenza cases in the UK this year, it is more important than ever that frontline staff are vaccinated, says medicines management expert Matt Griffiths 


Picture: Justin Slee

Although most well people of working age will only experience mild symptoms if they contract flu, for some groups it can pose a serious risk to health. 

Those at particular risk of severe illness include the very young, pregnant women, older people, immunosuppressed patients and those with underlying disease, such as asthma, diabetes, and cardiac conditions. 

In the UK, we generally get the strains of flu that the southern hemisphere had in the season immediately preceding our flu season.

Cases of flu in Australia this season have almost doubled the average infection rates for the past five years. Hospital admissions and deaths have increased in line with this, indicating we have a very serious flu season ahead of us in the UK this winter.

Predicting flu strains is not a precise science, but strains included in the vaccine are based on strains likely to affect us. In Australia, the early data indicates that the flu strains in the vaccine are well-matched to circulating viruses. 

Most injected flu vaccines protect against three types of flu virus:

  • A/H1N1 – the strain of flu that caused the swine flu pandemic in 2009.
  • A/H3N2 – a strain of flu that mainly affects older people and those with risk factors such as long-term conditions. This is the predominant circulating influenza A virus in Australia this year, with 81% of flu deaths due to this strain. 
  • Influenza B – a strain of flu that particularly affects children. 

We know the NHS is under incredible strain, even before the winter crisis is here. Add in a predicted doubling of influenza cases in the UK and the increase in workloads and pressure on frontline staff could be immense. 

It is therefore vital that nurses and other front-line staff are vaccinated against flu, to protect themselves and ensure they are well enough to care for their patients. 

 

Matt Griffiths is visiting professor of prescribing and medicines management at Birmingham City University 

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