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Ask the Nurse: The flu vaccine

In this month’s blog, we cover common questions about the flu vaccine and discuss why it is recommended for all myeloma patients.

Ask The Nurse // 3rd December 2019

As many of you will be aware, myeloma patients are more susceptible to infection and so they’re encouraged to do what they can to minimise the risk of catching something. With winter being flu season, many patients wonder whether they can or should have the flu vaccination. We get a lot of these inquiries through our Ask The Nurse and Infoline services, so we thought it would be helpful to cover common questions about the flu vaccine in this month’s blog.

Should I get my flu vaccine and where do I get it?

Yes, the annual flu vaccine is recommended for all myeloma patients. The two adult flu vaccines given by injection to 18-64 year olds and over 65s are inactivated (not live) vaccines, so they are considered safe for myeloma patients.

If a patient is particularly susceptible to infection (for example, those undergoing high-dose therapy and stem cell transplantation), their carers or family members may also be encouraged to have the flu vaccination to reduce the risk of them passing the flu on to the myeloma patient.

You can have your NHS flu vaccine at:

  • Your GP surgery
  • A local pharmacy offering the service

Some community pharmacies now offer the flu vaccine to adults (but not children) at risk of flu, including pregnant women, people aged 65 and over, people with long-term health conditions, and carers.

If you have your flu vaccination at a pharmacy, you do not have to inform your GP. It’s up to the pharmacist to do that.

I am currently on treatment, when is it a good time to have the flu vaccination?

Myeloma patients are generally advised to have their flu vaccination either when treatment has finished or during the rest week/days. However, it’s always best to speak to your doctor (haematologist) or clinical nurse specialist about this for some further guidance.

The immune response to vaccination takes about two weeks to develop fully and should, where possible, be given in sufficient time to ensure patients are protected before flu starts circulating. However, if this length of time is not possible, you should still have the vaccination, as it will still provide some protection from the flu.

Is the flu vaccine 100% effective?

Studies have shown that the flu vaccine will help prevent you from getting the flu.

However, it will not stop all flu viruses and the level of protection may vary, so it’s not a 100% guarantee that you’ll be flu-free.

However, if you do get flu after vaccination, it’s likely to be milder and shorter-lived than it would otherwise have been.

Can I catch the flu from my flu vaccine?

No, you will not catch the flu from the flu vaccine. However, some people can feel a bit unwell after receiving the flu vaccine. Common side effects of receiving the vaccine can include: pain, swelling or redness at the injection site, low-grade fever, malaise, shivering, sweating, fatigue and headache. However, these symptoms usually disappear within one to two days.

Can I catch the flu from a child who has received the nasal spray live flu vaccine?

The child’s flu vaccine given as nasal spray to 2-17 year olds is a ‘live’ virus. Therefore, although it is theoretically possible for the child to pass on the flu virus, the risk is extremely small. To err on the side of caution, we would suggest that myeloma patients avoid close contact with anyone who has had the live vaccine for up to two weeks.

If it is difficult to avoid contact completely, it may be wise for the patient to avoid very close physical contact (e.g. hugs & kisses) with the child and to be especially diligent about hand hygiene for a week or two following their flu nasal spray vaccination.

For more information about vaccines and infections, you can read the Myeloma UK Infosheets, ‘Infection and myeloma’ and ‘Vaccines and myeloma’ which are available to download from the Myeloma UK website.