Vaccination is your best protection against influenza in the upcoming “flu season”. In Singapore, influenza occurs throughout the year with the main influenza peak season usually happening from December to February the following year. This corresponds to the “Northern hemisphere influenza season”. There is usually another small peak around May to June every year and this corresponds to the Southern hemisphere influenza season.
The Northern Hemisphere 2015/2016 influenza vaccine has recently become available and we encourage early vaccination for all those at risk. The Ministry of Health Singapore recommends that the following groups of “high risk” individuals be vaccinated:
- Persons aged 65 years or older;
- Young children (aged 6 to 59 months);
- Pregnant women (all stages);
- Persons with chronic medical diseases (including cardiovascular,pulmonary, metabolic, renal, neurologic, hepatic, or haematologic disorders);
- Persons who are immunosuppressed; and
- Anyone staying in intermediate or long term care facilities.
As you can surmise from the list above, most individuals above the age of 6 months can receive the influenza vaccine as long as they do not have an existing allergy against any of the components of the influenza vaccine, especially allergy to egg protein.
It is important for us to highlight that health care workers (HCW) and caregivers of the elderly must also receive vaccination against influenza. The Ministry of Health has advised that HCW receive annual influenza vaccination. HCW are exposed to patients with respiratory illnesses and they need to protect themselves. Just as important, HCW must avoid being the possible source of influenza transmission to the patients that they come into contact with. Using the same rationale, we also recommend that caregivers of the elderly and those caring for patients with illnesses listed above should also receive annual influenza vaccination.
It will take approximately 2 weeks after vaccination for your body to produce antibodies against the vaccine strains. Thus, it is important to get your vaccination before the flu season starts. At this time, the available influenza vaccines protect against the current strains circulating this season. The influenza strains undergo continuous changes and the influenza vaccines need to be “updated” every season. As a result, you need to receive annual influenza vaccinations.
There are numerous influenza vaccines that are registered for use in Singapore and you need to be sure that your doctor is administering the most current vaccine. Usually the vaccines cover 3 different influenza strains – 2 strains for influenza A and 1 strain for influenza B. There is a new vaccine Fluarix Tetra registered in Singapore that will cover 4 strains – 2 for influenza A and 2 for influenza B. We have been informed by Glaxo Smithkline, the manufacturers of Fluarix Tetra that it will only be available in Singapore in late October to early November 2015. At this time, all the influenza vaccines are administered by injections only. The inhaled nasal influenza vaccines are not registered in Singapore.
Safety of Influenza Vaccines
Influenza vaccines have a good safety record. Mild side effects such as soreness at the site of vaccination, fatigue, headache may occur and usually last 1-2 days. The fever and soreness that patients may experience from vaccination is due to the immune system reacting to the killed influenza virus in the vaccine.
If you experience difficulty breathing, facial swelling or generalized rash, you should seek immediate medical attention. Major adverse effects from vaccinations are monitored by most health authorities and in Singapore, the Health Science Authority performs this function.
It is important to highlight that the current influenza vaccines do not provide protect against the avian influenza viruses such as H5N1 and H7N9.