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Health Matters: Get vaccinated to help deal with both 'flu and Covid

By Dr Tim Allison

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Vaccination is vital in trying to stop the spread of coronavirus.
Vaccination is vital in trying to stop the spread of coronavirus.

I had my autumn booster vaccinations a few days ago at the Eastgate Centre. The process was quick and efficient. I had the appropriate information given and then the vaccinations almost straight away. I waited for a few minutes after the vaccination to make sure that I didn’t have any immediate effects and then I was off.

Vaccination rates across Highland have been pretty good throughout the Covid pandemic and this has continued over recent months. In some cases, such as for people who live in care homes, the local vaccination rate is higher than that for Scotland as a whole, but overall we are a little behind the national average. While I was happy to get through my vaccinations quickly, I would have been happier if there had been more people at the clinic getting their vaccinations. The more people who are vaccinated, the better we are all protected from both Covid and influenza.

What vaccination does is to stimulate our own bodies to fight infection by generating a response from our own immune systems. Our immune systems are incredibly effective mechanisms to fight infection once that infection has come into our bodies. However, when there are new threats, it takes time to develop our own protection. Vaccination gives our bodies that time to build up protection before being faced with the new or changed infection.

The Covid virus has caused so much illness because when it arrived in 2019 it was new, and people lacked natural immunity. Continuing waves of infection, in places such as China, show how vaccination is essential for control of the disease, even when countries put other harsh measures in place to try to control pandemic spread. Influenza is not a new disease, but the influenza virus keeps changing and so can make it hard for our immune systems to react well against it. The more changes there are in the influenza virus, the harder it is for our bodies to defend us. Really big changes in the virus such as what happened a century ago can lead to pandemics. Vaccination against influenza aims to help our bodies tackle the changes from when we last had ‘flu.

When our immune systems don’t have contact with infections or with vaccines, they are less able to work effectively. That is one of the reasons why we are seeing a lot of different infections with us now. There is no one simple explanation as to why we are seeing more infections such as influenza, Strep A and other viruses and bacteria. However, the low level of other infections during the Covid pandemic and the effect on our immune systems is an important factor. It is as if our immune systems have not had the practice in dealing with infection and need help. Vaccination remains a crucial part of that help for Covid and ‘flu. So, it is important that we all take it up.

Dr Tim Allison is NHS Highland’s director of public health and policy.

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