Swine flu is a respiratory disease caused by a new strain of influenza virus. The seasonal flu vaccines that are already available don’t protect against swine flu, so a new flu vaccine has been developed. For most people, swine flu is mild. It comes on quickly and generally lasts for around a week. It causes fever, tiredness, cough and sore throat. Other symptoms can include a headache, aching muscles, chills, sneezing, a runny nose, loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Some people are more likely to be seriously ill with swine flu. These can include people who have long-term health conditions, who are pregnant or whose immune system is affected by a disease or treatment for a disease. They may need to go to hospital and, in the very worst cases, some may die. This is why it is important to have a vaccine to prevent people from catching swine flu.
About the swine flu vaccine
Vaccines have been developed to protect against the virus that causes swine flu. There are two different brands of vaccine – Pandemrix and Celvapan. Many people given the Pandemrix vaccine will only need one dose. People who have the Celvapan vaccine will need two doses three weeks apart.
Is it the same as the seasonal flu vaccination?
No. The swine flu vaccine is different from the seasonal flu vaccination that’s offered every year. The seasonal flu vaccine does not protect against swine flu. If you are usually advised to have the seasonal flu vaccination, you should have it. You may be offered the swine flu vaccine as well.
Who can’t have the swine flu vaccine?
There are only a few people who cannot have the swine flu vaccine. The vaccines should not be given to anyone who has had a severe allergic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine or any component of the vaccine. If you are worried that this may apply to you, talk to your GP or practice nurse.
What about people with egg allergies?
The Pandemrix vaccine is prepared in hens’ eggs in the same way that seasonal flu vaccines are. It should not be given to people who have had a confirmed anaphylactic reaction (experiencing shock or difficulty breathing) after being exposed to egg products. The Celvapan vaccine is not prepared using eggs, so you should have this vaccine if you have a severe allergy to eggs.
Are there any side-effects?
All vaccinations can produce side-effects such as redness, soreness and swelling at the site of the injection. Flu vaccines can cause symptoms like fever, headache and muscle aches, but they are much milder than the flu itself and only last a day or so. If you think that you or someone you know has experienced a more serious side-effect to Pandemrix or Celvapan, please report it to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency
Is the vaccine safe for pregnant women?
The European Medicines Agency has said Pandemrix and Celvapan can be given to pregnant women. Pregnant women are recommended to have the swine flu vaccine because they are at greater risk of being seriously ill with swine flu. They also have a higher risk of needing to go to hospital if they catch swine flu. These risks increase during the later stages of pregnancy. If you are about to give birth, having the swine flu vaccine could help you avoid catching swine flu and then passing it to your baby.