People often ask whether flu vaccinations give protection against pandemic flu. Pandemics are caused by flu viruses that are completely new. Whereas in most infections you are exposed to, your immune system is immediately suspicious that this new thing is an enemy and doesn't take long to produce antibodies, if you are exposed to a completely new type of virus that doesn't appear suspicious, then your immune system is not primed and is much slower to respond. By the time it does, you are very ill indeed. Pandemics were caused amongst the indigenous Americans by our normal viruses when Europeans first visited the Americas because they had not been exposed to them before. In 1918 a new virus appeared to arrive from nowhere and killed more people than the First World War; we still do not know its origin.
Do flu vaccinations work and what are the risks?
The greatest risk is animal viruses as they will not be recognised by our immune systems. For this reason, bird or avian flu kills a up to half the people who contract it and it is mutating all the time and will be able to spread from human to human before long; indeed the first human-to-human case has recently occurred in China. In both the above examples, poverty and the absence of modern treatments made them worse than they would be now. We can also take some comfort in the reduced virulence of mutated viruses. However, there can be no doubt that an avian flu pandemic would kill many thousand people in this country and it is worse amongst the young. It is agreed that it is a matter of when not of whether an avian flu pandemic strikes. Seasonal flu vaccination is a self-funding programme as the reduction in sickness absence that comes with flu vaccination has been shown to more than pay for the vaccination programme. Does it also prime your immune system against pandemic influenza? We do not yet know which strain will cause a pandemic so this is hard to answer. However, seasonal flu vaccine includes H1N1 which is one of the strains we are worried about. We also know that people who have been exposed to more strains have had better-primed immune systems in past outbreaks. Therefore there is good reason to believe that seasonal flu vaccination is likely to help. Large companies have business continuity plans to try and keep the company going during a pandemic. The Government also has contingency plans in place with business continuity planning for the emergency services and with reactive support for the general population. Doctorcall are experts in influenza in relation to business continuity planning both in relation to seasonal influenza and pandemic flu. The Doctorcall on-site flu vaccination programme is the main occupational health flu programme in the UK. Doctorcall was the first OH provider to offer mass flu vaccination in the work place and is also a recognised expert in pandemic planning.