Experts warn of a serious flu wave that could overwhelm us this autumn and urge vaccination. In many cases, this can prevent infection or at least have a positive effect on the course of the disease. FITBOOK clarifies the most important questions about the flu vaccination below.
Even if more coronavirus infections have been recorded in the past few weeks, autumn is, if nothing else, the typical flu season. It should be clear: the flu is not something to be trifled with. It is true that for some of those infected it is mild, sometimes even without symptoms. But people with previous illnesses in particular have to expect that it will really hit them, with fever, body aches, and cough. The flu vaccination can protect. You can read the answers to the most important questions here.
Why is the flu dangerous?
In the worst-case scenario, the flu can lead to life-threatening complications, warns Burkhard Lawrenz. He is the spokesman for the Prevention Committee of the Professional Association of Pediatricians and Adolescents (BVKJ). “Respiratory viruses, including flu viruses, open the door to bacterial infections.”
A flu infection causes damage to the mucous membranes of the nasopharynx and lungs. Bacteria, such as pneumococcus, have an easy time penetrating mucous membranes and the bloodstream. They can therefore trigger further infections – such as severe pneumonia that requires hospital treatment. The flu vaccination, however, can offer some protection.
Who should get the flu shot?
The Standing Vaccination Commission (Stiko) of the Robert Koch Institute recommends annual flu vaccinations primarily for the following groups of people:
– People over 60. As we get older, the immune system weakens, which increases the risk of serious illnesses. According to the RKI, most deaths from influenza affect this age group.
– Pregnant women from the second trimester onwards. If there is a pre-existing illness, Stiko recommends spacing in the first trimester.
– People with certain previous illnesses. According to Stiko, these include diseases of the heart, liver or kidneys, but also diabetes, immune deficiencies, or neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
– Residents of old people’s and nursing homes
– People in close contact with people at risk, for example because they live in the same household with them or look after them. Your vaccination primarily serves to protect people at risk.
– People with an “increased occupational risk”, as the RKI calls it. This applies, for example, if you work in the medical field or in a facility with a lot of public traffic.
The fact that Stiko recommends the influenza vaccination to certain groups does not mean that it advises against it for others. The RKI itself writes this. So there may be good reasons for the flu vaccination even among people who are not listed.
Pediatrician Lawrenz advises viewing vaccination not just as an individual decision but as a social one. “If many people get vaccinated, then that protects many others.” For example, people with an immune deficiency for whom vaccinations have a poor effect.
Does the flu vaccination make sense for children?
Yes, is Burkhard Lawrenz’s assessment. Because small children are the age group that most often gets the flu. The pediatrician therefore encourages parents to have their children – even those without previous illnesses – vaccinated against influenza. “The children infect each other in kindergarten and then carry the viruses into their families, infecting their parents and their chronically ill grandparents,” says the pediatrician. In addition, not every infection is harmless, even in little ones, so a vaccination can ensure milder courses. What parents should know: “You can only get a flu vaccination from six months of age,” says Lawrenz.
Vaccination as a nasal spray
When it comes to the vaccine, there is a special rule for children who are at least two years old but younger than 18. A vaccine that is administered as a nasal spray is also approved for them. Since the nasal spray is more expensive than the syringe, health insurance companies only cover the costs in individual cases. “For example, if the children have a coagulation disorder and an injection is therefore a risk,” says Lawrenz. The nasal spray vaccine is also used for children who are very panicked about needles.
When is the best time for spades?
That is hard to say. “The flu wave usually doesn’t start until after Christmas and usually lasts until April,” says Burkhard Lawrenz. “But sometimes it starts earlier.”
The RKI also points out that the duration of flu waves can never be precisely predicted. Therefore the recommendation is: ideally in October at the earliest and mid-December at the latest. It takes around two weeks for the vaccination protection to fully develop. However, a particularly early vaccination appointment can also have disadvantages. “Vaccination protection wears off after five to six months,” says Burkhard Lawrenz. So anyone who gets vaccinated in September will no longer have full protection next spring.
Who can’t get the flu shot?
According to the RKI, the vaccination is considered well tolerated. “Severe allergies to a component of the vaccines are rare,” says Lawrenz. This particularly affects people who have a severe allergy to chicken protein. Traces of this may be contained in the vaccine. If a corresponding allergy is known, an alternative vaccine can be used.
Anyone who has a slight runny nose or cough, i.e. feels slightly under the weather, can generally attend the vaccination appointment. However, in the case of acute infections with a fever of at least 38.5 degrees, the flu vaccination should be postponed. This applies to both children and adults.
Where can you ask about the flu shot?
From the family doctor to the gynecologist to the pediatrician, the flu vaccination is available in various medical practices. Since 2022, vaccinations have also been allowed in some German pharmacies. On the “mein-apothekenmanager.de” portal, you can filter for pharmacies in the area that offer flu vaccinations.
Finally, if your employer offers free flu vaccinations to its employees, you can also contact the company’s company doctor if you would like the vaccination.
Who bears the costs of the vaccination?
If you fall under the Stiko vaccination recommendation, the matter is clear: then the statutory health insurance covers the full costs. This is stated in the vaccination guidelines. In some cases, the health insurance companies also cover the vaccination costs for other groups of people or they contribute a share. If in doubt, ask your own health insurance company.
Good to know: The German Pharmacists Association (DAV) has concluded an agreement with some health insurance companies – including the three health insurance companies with the most insured people: TK, Barmer, and DAK-Gesundheit. Anyone who is insured there and at least 18 years old can get vaccinated against influenza free of charge in pharmacies. Even if you don’t fall under the Stiko recommendation.
with material from dpa]
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