Article - Flu jabs and vaccinations

Normally, my criteria for including a particular topic in this column are that it should be reasonably topical and possibly of interest to readers in our part of the world. 

But, just occasionally, I think it is appropriate to devote this column to propagating a message that will have useful results for my constituents - and this week, that is what I propose to do. 

Recently, the Chief Medical Officer has asked MPs to alert those of their constituents who are either themselves over the age of 65 or are regularly in touch with others of this age to the benefits and availability of free flu jabs. 

As someone who is rapidly approaching this age bracket myself, I am increasingly conscious of the massive national effects that a serious flu outbreak can have. And I have also learnt, as a result of my years in government, that things said by the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, are not said lightly. Sally Davies, who is a fellow of the Royal Society, has not only revolutionised the funding of research within the NHS but also played a critical role in inducing and enabling the World Health Organisation and other key international bodies to deal with really important global public health issues such as Ebola and the anti-microbial resistance that threatens to deprive us of effective antibiotics. 

These are real contributions to humanity that have helped to save millions of lives. So, when Dame Sally asks us to encourage the take up the flu jab by those over 65, we need to take that seriously. And it is clear that there are good reasons to do so given the belief of the health chiefs that the new vaccine could reduce GP consultations due to flu by 30,000, hospitalisations by over 2,000 and prevent over 700 hospital deaths in England, alleviating some of the health burden that seasonal flu places on the population, workplaces and the NHS. 

The message is clear: if you are over 65 and you haven’t already done so, ask your GP for a flu jab. 

This is one of the happy cases in which you can not only improve your own chances of having a healthy winter but also help others by helping the NHS to deal with the severe pressures that are placed upon it by winter disease amongst the older part of the population. 

There are lots of things we can all do to make ourselves more comfortable, and there are lots of things we can all do to help other people survive and prosper - but there are relatively few things one can do that will have both of these desirable effects simultaneously and without any tension between the two. 

So here is something that can unusually help to make you feel well and good at the same time. 

I think, on reflection, that there ought to be a specific name for this benign class of actions. One could call them “serendipitous” since the Isle of Serendipity was blessed by the prevalence of happy coincidences. But this term is more normally used to describe happy coincidences that happen to us rather than actions which produce multiple benefits of a kind one would not usually expect to be wholly compatible with one another. 

Perhaps it is an indication of our national tendency to avoid optimism whenever possible that we haven’t coined a term as yet. I shall make it a New Years resolution to search for one.