Eligibility for a free flu vaccine this winter? Don’t wait, book it.

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With flu and COVID-19 expected to be rife together this winter, we urge more people than ever to get their free flu vaccine if they are eligible. In this blog we answer some common questions about this year’s flu season.

Why do we expect a difficult winter?

This marks the first winter that COVID-19 and seasonal flu have circulated together without a nationwide lockdown that helped stop the spread last year.

Flu is unpredictable and the level of activity varies from year to year. However, health experts are warning that we could see a resurgence of the flu this winter after seeing low levels last winter. Different strains of flu emerge every year and we have lower population immunity after having very little flu last year. At the same time, fewer people distance themselves than last year and wear masks.

We also know that people infected with both COVID-19 and flu are at higher risk of death. So if you are eligible, it is important that you have received your flu shot as well as any due COVID-19 vaccine doses.

What can you do to protect yourself and others?

The best protection for yourself and others is to get vaccinated, ideally in the fall or early winter before the flu spreads. It’s also important to stick to good habits, like wearing masks in crowded rooms and washing your hands regularly.

When you get sick, you need to avoid mingling with others to stop the transmission. Stay hydrated, stay warm, and call 111 if you are concerned, especially if you have any health issues, are pregnant, or are 65 years of age or older.

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Who is eligible for a vaccine?

In England, more than 35 million people are now entitled to a free flu vaccine and so far 7.5 million people have been invited to take an offer of a free COVID-19 booster shot.

More than 80% of people 65 and over had their flu shot in the UK last year – surpassing a 75% global target – and our goal is to reach at least 85% of that group this flu season.

We also strongly encourage other eligible groups to receive their vaccines, including people with pre-existing conditions such as asthma and heart disease, pregnant women, and eligible children (2 and 3 year olds; and school children up to 11 years of age). School children should get their flu vaccine at school.

If you are eligible for a free flu vaccine, you can get it either from your own family doctor’s office or from a pharmacy that offers NHS flu vaccines. Some people may receive an invitation to vaccinate from their GP or by letter. However, you don’t have to wait for an invitation to book an appointment at your general practitioner or pharmacy.

Frontline health and social workers should be offered the flu vaccine through their employer. You may be able to get it at your work place or through some other local service. Health or social care workers employed in a registered nursing or nursing home, registered home care facility or hospice, and anyone who provides health or social care Direct payments or personal health budgets can also have it at a family doctor or pharmacy.

Do pregnant women need a flu shot this year?

All pregnant women should have the flu shot to protect themselves and their babies. Pregnancy changes how the body deals with infections like the flu. Getting infected with the flu increases the likelihood that pregnant women and their babies will need intensive care.

The flu vaccine can be safely given at any stage of pregnancy from conception.

Pregnant women benefit from the flu shot because they:

  • reduce their risk of serious complications like pneumonia, especially in the later stages of pregnancy
  • reduce the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth or premature birth of the baby
  • help protect their baby, who will continue to have some flu immunity for the first few months of his or her life
  • Reduce the chances of the mother passing an infection on to her new baby

What flu vaccines are there in the UK?

There are different types of flu vaccines. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) reviews the latest flu vaccine knowledge and recommends the type of vaccine to patients. The recommended vaccines vary based on age. You will be offered one that is most effective for you.

  • A quick and painless nasal spray vaccination is offered to children aged 2 to 17 years.
  • Adults aged 18 to 64 are at greater risk of flu – there are several types, including low-protein and egg-free vaccines.
  • Adults aged 65 and over are usually offered a vaccine that contains an adjuvant that helps the immune system produce a stronger response to the vaccine. It is offered to people in this age group because their immune systems tend to be less responsive to vaccines.

Some children cannot get the nasal spray, so they are offered an injected vaccine instead. And children under 2 years of age, who are in a high risk group for the flu, are also offered an injected flu vaccine as the nasal spray is not approved for children under 2 years of age.

What should you do if you are not sure if you have the flu or COVID-19?

If you are uncomfortable with cold and flu-like symptoms, try to stay home if possible until you better stop passing it on to others. Some COVID-19 and flu symptoms overlap. So do a PCR test if you notice:

  • a high temperature
  • a new, persistent cough
  • a loss or change in your sense of smell or taste

If you have any of the above symptoms, stay home until you get your result. If your PCR test result is negative but you are still experiencing symptoms, avoid mixing with others until you are comfortable.

Is It Safe To Get The Flu Shot And The COVID-19 Shot Close To Each Other?

The flu program will run parallel to the COVID-19 booster program. Most of the time, the patients eligible for the COVID-19 booster are also eligible for a flu vaccine.

In some areas, people may be offered the COVID-19 vaccine in one arm and the flu vaccine in the other on the same day, although this will not be available in all areas. Doing them at the same time is generally fine. However, it is important that you do not delay any of the vaccines in anticipation that the two of you can have them together.

As with any vaccination, getting vaccinated while you have something else is not a good idea. It is advisable to wait until you have recovered before booking an appointment.

Are people being tested for flu in the UK?

The flu is usually diagnosed based on clinical signs and symptoms rather than tests. These symptoms may include a fever, cough, runny / stuffy nose, sore throat, stomach or bowel symptoms (more common in children), and generalized symptoms (headache, tiredness, or muscle pain). Flu symptoms can come on quickly.

Influenza tests are mainly performed as part of the clinical care of inpatients, A&E patients, or people with risk factors such as a severely compromised immune system. If influenza outbreaks are suspected in nursing homes, tests can be done at regional public health laboratories.

additional Information

the NHS website has more information about the flu and the vaccination program.

Thank You For Reading!

Reference: ukhsa.blog.gov.uk

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