The winter season is fast approaching, meaning we could soon have an outbreak of seasonal flu to contend with.
Health officials are concerned as this is will be the first winter Covid and the flu will circulate fully at the same time without lockdown restrictions. Research has found that people who are infected with both viruses are twice as likely to die than someone who has Covid alone.
Flu and other winter viruses can lead to more than 1,000 hospital admissions a day in the winter months, which is currently more than the number of people being seen for Covid. A report from the Academy of Medical Sciences says that respiratory illness could hit very high levels, which may cause a severe strain on the NHS and up to 60,000 deaths.
The government is urging people to take the flu jab as it’s launched the biggest flu programme in the NHS’s history.
More than 35 million people in England are eligible for a free vaccine. People may be offered the booster Covid jab in one arm and the flu vaccine in the other on the same day in some regions. But this might not be available in every area.
Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said “we need to take this seriously and defend ourselves” by taking the vaccines when offered. “Both these viruses are serious: they can both spread easily, cause hospitalisation and they can both be fatal,” he added.
Professor of virology at Imperial College London, Wendy Barclay, told the BBC’s Today Programme that it had been trickier to gauge which flu strains to cover with this year’s vaccine, because cases had been so low last year. “The vaccine this year is updated to match what we predict will be the circulating strains,” she said.
Who is eligible for the flu jab?
The NHS flu vaccine programme has been widely extended this year to include more people than usual. Those in the following groups are eligible for a free jab:
All children who are aged two and three on 31 August 2021
All children in primary school and all secondary school pupils under the age of 16 on 31 August
Those aged six months to 50 years old in clinical risk groups. These include people impacted by respiratory illness (including asthma), heart conditions, diabetes, and neurological conditions. Find a full list here.
Those aged 50 years and over
People in residential care
Close contacts of people with weakened immune systems
Health and care staff
How can you access your free jab?
The flu vaccine will be offered through your GP, local pharmacies, and schools.
Adults who are eligible for the free NHS flu vaccine – due to age or medical condition – will be contacted by GP surgeries, or they can book an appointment at a pharmacy.
Health and care staff eligible for the vaccine will be given a voucher by their employer, which can be used to access the flu vaccine via a pharmacy.
Children under 18 are given the flu vaccine via a nasal spray. They can not access this via a pharmacy. Instead, children will either be offered immunisation via their GP surgery or school.
Children under the age of two will receive the spray at a GP surgery. Children in primary and secondary schools without an underlying health condition will be offered it in school (and parent/guardian consent will be sought). School-aged children with an underlying medical condition can receive a vaccine via their GP surgery or school, whichever is earlier.
If you’re not eligible for a free jab, can you get one privately?
Yes. Anyone who isn’t eligible for a free flu vaccine can pay for it privately at many pharmacies, at a cost of around £15.