Health and care chiefs in the North East and North Cumbria are calling on people to do their bit and get their free flu vaccine this winter to protect themselves and others.
Experts are concerned this year could be one of the worst for flu infections, because immunity has dropped off due to measures designed to control the spread of Covid-19, but this doesn’t mean that flu has gone away.
With that in mind, the free vaccine programme has been extended again this year to include all secondary school children from Years 7 to 11, while it will continue to be available to those aged 50 to 64, as introduced last winter.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, NHS teams across the region vaccinated record numbers of people against flu last winter and are now gearing up to do the same again this year, with an estimated 1.5 million people now eligible for a free vaccine.
Dr Neil O’Brien, lead for the North East and North Cumbria Flu Board as well as a GP, added: “Modelling indicates the flu season could be up to 50% larger than typically seen and it is also possible it will begin earlier than usual. Given what we’ve all been through in the past 18 months, nobody needs flu on top of everything else.
“Despite the attention that we have all had to pay to Covid, it’s worth remembering that flu can be very serious and can even kill, plus it spreads easily so you can pass it onto others, potentially putting them at risk. Not only that but if you get flu and coronavirus at the same time you’re more likely to be more seriously ill. Those most at risk from flu are also more vulnerable to Covid-19.
“Remember that the Covid-19 vaccination is still available to anyone who hasn’t yet had it and those eligible for their booster, which can be given six months after your second dose, should take up that offer when invited as well.”
Regardless of your eligibility for a Covid booster, when you’re invited to have your free flu vaccination, you should book your appointment as soon as possible to make sure you and others are protected.
Wherever you receive your vaccine, teams will be making sure that there are strict infection control measures in place. Please do your bit by wearing a mask, washing your hands and keeping your distance. Don’t attend your appointment if you suspect you have coronavirus.
Dr O’Brien added: “While record numbers of people came forward for their flu vaccine last year, uptake still remains low in some groups, leaving many at risk of becoming seriously ill. This includes those with medical conditions, children aged two and three, pregnant women and care workers.
“Having the flu vaccination remains the most safe and effective way of protecting yourself and others.”
The annual vaccine works by boosting antibodies, helping the body to fight off the virus, and it is free for people who are at increased risk from the effects of flu. The vaccine is safe and doesn’t give you flu. Some people may experience a mild fever, up to 48 hours after having their jab, as their immune system responds to the vaccine, but this is not flu.
Who is eligible for a free flu vaccine?
· Those aged 50 and over
· Those with certain health conditions
· Pregnant people
· Those in long-stay residential care
· Those who receive a carer’s allowance, or are the main carer for an older or disabled person who may be at risk if you get sick
· Those who live with someone who’s at high risk from coronavirus (on the NHS shielded patient list)
· Frontline health or social care workers or those who provide health or social care through direct payments or personal health budgets, or both
· Children aged two and three
· All primary school children (Reception to Year 6)
· All secondary school children from Year 7 to 11
· Children up to the age of 17 with long-term health conditions.
If you have children at school, please look out for a consent form from their school – you may receive a paper consent or an email with a link to the e-consent. Remember to sign it and return it, or complete online, so the school know you have given your permission.
Young children are able to spread the virus for up to 10 days, so it is important to have them vaccinated to protect older and more vulnerable members of the community.