Paula Radcliffe urges asthma sufferers to race to get themselves vaccinated against flu

Anne Gulland
Paula Radcliffe after winning the New York marathon in 2008 - EPA

Athlete Paula Radcliffe is urging fellow asthma-sufferers to get the flu jab as the country braces itself for another winter cough and cold season. 

Ms Radcliffe, who has suffered exercise-induced asthma since she was 14, said that she had been getting an annual flu jab since she was at university.

“Because I was in halls of residence and I was competing and training at a high level and I understood the impact flu would have on my season I always got vaccinated,” she said.

“One year the strain of flu was not predicted correctly and I got flu really badly. It didn’t scupper my world cross country season completely but it did scupper my trials. As an asthma sufferer it’s not just the time out from having flu, it’s the repercussions such as bronchitis, pleurisy and pneumonia,” she said.

Ms Radcliffe, who held the women’s marathon record for 16 years until it was beaten earlier this month, is spearheading a campaign by Asda Pharmacy to encourage asthma sufferers to get vaccinated.

A survey of 1,000 asthma sufferers carried out on behalf of the supermarket chain showed that nearly a third – 28 per cent – said they had no intention of getting the vaccine this year and a further third (29 per cent) said they had never had it.

This is despite the fact the vaccine is free to anyone in an at-risk group, such as people with asthma. Asthmatics are more likely to fall ill with the flu and, if they do get it, their symptoms will be worse. 

The introduction of the flu vaccine in the UK has been delayed this year because it took the World Health Organization longer than usual to analyse the flu strains circulating in the southern hemisphere. It bases its recommendations for the vaccine on the Australian flu season.

This year’s vaccine protects against four strains of flu and experts are bracing themselves for a particularly busy season after Australia’s early start to the flu season back in July.

There were around 270,000 laboratory confirmed cases of the virus and 662 deaths over the Australian winter, according to the country's Department of Health – higher than normal but not as many as in 2017 which was a particularly busy year.  

Maq Din, Asda pharmacist, urged patients to come forward and get vaccinated ahead of the flu season.

“Normally flu happens around December time so it’s best to get the vaccine as soon as possible. It takes a couple of weeks to get it into your system and for your antibodies to recognise a virus and build an immune response,” he said. 

This year around 25 million people will be eligible for a free flu jab on the NHS, including those aged 65 and over, anyone in an at-risk group, pregnant women and children aged two to three.

In 2018-19 5,505 people were hospitalised in England because of flu, with more than 3,000 admitted to intensive care or a high dependency unit. There were an estimated 1.692 deaths associated with flu.

Ms Radcliffe said everyone should get the vaccine but for asthma sufferers it was a “no brainer”.

“You’re talking about five or 10 minutes out of your day, as opposed to at least two weeks out if you get flu. And the knock-on effects through the rest of the winter are terrible – the fact the immune system will have been hit and you are more likely to pick up other viruses throughout the winter,” she said.

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