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Swine Flu Vaccination PDF Print Email

Swine flu vaccine

A vaccine has been developed to provide protection against swine flu. As well as offering protection against the serious effects of swine flu, it may also help to reduce the spread of the infection.

The vaccine contains small amounts of parts of the virus that is causing swine flu. The virus has first been inactivated so the vaccine does not cause the disease. When a person is given the vaccine, the body’s immune system recognises the virus as ‘foreign’ and makes antibodies against it. The immune system will then be able to produce antibodies more quickly when it is exposed to the virus in the future. This will help to protect against the disease caused by the virus. The swine flu vaccine should provide protection against the pandemic strain of swine flu for several years following vaccination.

The swine flu vaccine is different to the seasonal flu vaccine that is offered every year. As the antibodies produced by each type of flu vaccine only work against a particular type of flu virus, swine flu vaccine will not protect against seasonal flu and, similarly, seasonal flu vaccine will not provide protection against swine flu. If a person is normally advised to have the seasonal flu vaccine each winter, the person will need to continue to receive seasonal flu vaccine every year to ensure protection against most of the flu strains in circulation.

Safety

Studies suggest that the swine flu vaccine is as safe as seasonal flu vaccines. In advance of the swine flu pandemic, a prototype vaccine was developed and clinically tested. The tests showed that the prototype vaccine was safe and produced enough antibodies to provide protection. Following the start of the swine flu pandemic, the vaccine manufacturers replaced the prototype virus strain with the virus strain causing the pandemic. The authorities responsible for monitoring the safety and effect of vaccines were satisfied that the change of strain from the prototype to the pandemic type did not affect the characteristics or safety of the swine flu vaccine. This method of switching the virus strains is similar to the methods used in the production of the seasonal flu vaccine, as the virus type changes each year. Experience with seasonal flu vaccines has also shown that changing the strain of virus in a vaccine each year does not substantially affect the safety of the vaccines.

Although the swine flu vaccine is considered to be safe it may, like all vaccinations, produce side effects such as redness, soreness and swelling in the area where the vaccine was given. Flu vaccines may also cause symptoms such as headache, muscle ache and raised temperature but these effects are much milder than flu itself and only last for a few days.



Swine flu vaccination programme

A vaccination programme to provide protection against swine flu began on 21 October 2009. The vaccination policy is being continued at least until the beginning of the next seasonal flu season.

People who are most likely to be seriously ill if they caught swine flu are encouraged to have the vaccine. These are:

1. Adults and children over 6 months of age who have a long-term health condition, including:
•    Chronic lung, heart, kidney, liver or neurological disease
•    Diabetes mellitus
•    People whose immune system is not working properly
2. All pregnant women
3. People who live with someone whose immune system is not working properly (for example, people with cancer, HIV or AIDS)
4. Healthy children aged between 6 months and 5 years

Health and social care workers who are at an increased risk of catching swine flu or spreading it to patients at risk of serious illness caused by swine flu are also encouraged to have the vaccine.

Healthy people aged over 65 are not considered a priority to receive swine flu vaccine as they appear to have some natural immunity to the swine flu virus.

Babies under six months cannot be vaccinated because the swine flu vaccines do not produce enough of an immune response in them to provide protection.

Although vaccination remains a personal choice, the Department of Health is urging everyone who is offered the vaccine to accept it.


How will people in the priority groups be given the vaccine

People in a priority group for the swine flu vaccine, will be contacted by their local NHS to go to an immunisation clinic or visit their local doctor’s surgery to be given the vaccine.

Vaccination is not compulsory. As with any vaccination, everyone has the right to refuse it.

The swine flu vaccine is free, the person will not be charged a cost for the vaccine or for it being injected.

Two different brands of swine flu vaccine are available - Pandemrix and Celvapan. The Pandermix vaccine is prepared in hen’s eggs. It should not be given to people who have a confirmed allergic reaction to egg products or chicken meat. The Celvapan vaccine is not prepared using eggs and so this vaccine will be used in those people who have an allergy to eggs.

Many people given the Pandemrix vaccine will require only one dose. People who have the Celvapan vaccine will need two doses, three weeks apart.



Pregnant women

Evidence suggests that pregnant women are four times more likely to develop serious complications from swine flu and up to five times more likely to be admitted to hospital because of the complications of swine flu. The risks of swine flu are highest during the latter stages of pregnancy.

There is no evidence that inactivated vaccines, such as the swine flu vaccine, will cause any harm to pregnant women or their unborn baby. Every year, the seasonal flu vaccine is given to pregnant women who are at risk of seasonal flu.

Consequently, pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy are considered a priority to receive the swine flu vaccine.

Swine flu vaccination for children under 5 years of age

The swine flu vaccination programme includes healthy children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years of age. The Department of Health’s policy to vaccinate children is based on observations that children under five years of age are more likely than other groups to be hospitalised if they become ill with swine flu. While the risks of serious complications from swine flu in children may be small, the impact on those affected can be devastating. Parents of children aged between 6 months and 5 years should wait to be contacted by their doctor.

Information

For further information
www.direct.gov.uk/swineflu

Reviewed on 07/02/2010