What vaccinations should I have?
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There are a number of vaccinations routinely offered to everyone in the UK, most of which are given when you’re a child. For a full list of the current UK vaccinations schedule and the ages they’re given, see the NHS Vaccination Checklist website.
It’s recommended that everyone over the age of 65 and those with a long-term health condition should be vaccinated against:
- flu and swine flu
- pneumococcus (bacteria that can cause a certain type of pneumonia and meningitis).
This includes people with rheumatic diseases (autoimmune or otherwise) and those on certain drug treatments that affect the immune system. It’s important to check with your rheumatologist or rheumatology nurse specialist to see whether your treatment is immunosuppressive.
Flu and swine flu
The symptoms of flu (influenza) can be worse for anyone with a weakened immune system. If you have a long-term rheumatic disease or are taking steroids or disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) you’re eligible for a flu vaccination as you fall into what’s called a 'high-risk' group. Other high-risk groups include:
- anyone over the age of 65
- pregnant women
- anyone with an underlying condition (for example heart disease or diabetes).
Carers of people falling into these groups can also be vaccinated to reduce the risk of passing on infection.
Like flu, swine flu can be worse in immunosuppressed people. The H1N1 swine flu vaccine isn’t live so it can’t give you the infection, but you may experience some flu-like symptoms for a day or two after the injection. It’s given as part of the flu vaccination.
Each year the seasonal flu vaccine is changed to provide protection against the flu viruses most likely to cause infection that year. Your GP will advise whether the seasonal flu vaccine will provide adequate cover against swine flu or any other new flu virus that may develop in the future.
Vaccination against pneumococcus is important if you fall into a high-risk group. The vaccine is designed to protect you against conditions such as septicaemia and meningitis, though the main effect is against pneumonia.
Talk to your local rheumatology team or GP if you’re unsure about whether you’re eligible for a certain vaccination. More information on pneumococcal and flu vaccines can be found on the NHS website.
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