Flu vaccine and porcine gelatine
Each year flu kills around 11,000 people across the UK and hospitalises thousands more.
Having the flu vaccine is the best protection for you, and those around you, against the flu.
We know that there are many myths surrounding the flu vaccination, and one, in particular, is the use of porcine gelatine in vaccinations…here we try and answer some of the questions you may have.
What is gelatine?
Gelatine is a substance derived from the collagen of animals such as chickens, cattle, pigs, and fish. Collagen is found in tendons, ligaments, bones, and cartilage. Porcine gelatine comes from collagen in pigs. All forms of gelatine for use in medicines are manufactured under strict hygiene and safety regulations.
Why is porcine gelatine used in vaccines?
Porcine gelatine is used in vaccines as a stabiliser – to ensure that the vaccine remains safe and effective during storage. Vaccine manufacturers normally test a wide range of stabilisers and choose one that is stable, good quality, and available in sufficient volume. Unlike the gelatine used in foods, the product used in vaccines is highly purified and broken down into very small molecules called peptides.
Does the nasal vaccine contain gelatine from pigs (porcine gelatine)?
The nasal vaccine contains a highly processed form of gelatine (porcine gelatine), which is used in a range of many essential medicines. The gelatine helps to keep the vaccine viruses stable, so that the vaccine provides the best protection against flu. The nasal vaccine is offered to children as it is more effective in the programme than the injected vaccine. This is because it is easier to administer and considered better at reducing the spread of flu to others, who may be more vulnerable to the complications of flu.
However, if your child is at high risk from flu due to one or more medical conditions or treatments and can’t have the nasal flu vaccine, they should have the flu vaccine by injection.
Are there any alternatives to the nasal flu vaccine (Fluenz Tetra®)?
There are injectable flu vaccines that do not contain pork gelatine, but these are expected to be less effective than Fluenz Tetra® in children. They may also do less to reduce the spread of flu in the community. These vaccines are only recommended as part of the programme for children and adults who are at high risk of complications of flu.
Once the NHS is satisfied that the population who are at high risk of complications from flu have either been vaccinated or offered a flu injection, if supplies are still available parents and /or carers who would not consent to the nasal vaccine due to the porcine content, will be contacted by their GP practice or school nursing team to be offered the injection.
There is, however, no guarantee there will be supplies still available once all the high people have been vaccinated. This, therefore, means there is a risk your child will be unprotected against flu and at risk of spreading it to others.
What if I don’t want my children, or myself, to have a vaccine containing porcine gelatine?
The final decision about whether or not to be vaccinated, or have your child vaccinated, is yours. In order to come to an informed decision, you may wish to consider the evidence about the advantages and disadvantages of having yourself or your child vaccinated.
Why don’t we use the nasal spray for adults?
In the UK and elsewhere in Europe, the vaccine is currently only licensed for children aged 2 to under 18 years of age.
What if I belong to a religion, or faith, that does not eat products derived from pigs?
We recognise that there is still some uncertainty amongst some groups about the acceptability of the nasal spray.
Some faith groups accept the use of porcine gelatine in medical products as it has been highly purified to the extent that molecules of actual porcine are no longer present in the final preparation.
We recognise that some people may not accept the use of porcine gelatine in medical products. If this is the case, you should discuss your options with your nurse or doctor.
What does the Muslim Council of Britain say about the flu vaccine?
“Our view is not that Muslims should automatically refuse such treatment. Health is paramount, anyone concerned about the use of [porcine] gelatin in vaccines should consult a clinical practitioner to make an informed decision.”
Read the full statement here.
To book your vaccine contact your local GP or Pharmacist.