Thirty million people will be offered the free flu vaccine across the country this year, the highest number ever.
New research from Public Health England (PHE) suggests that the risk of death more than doubled for people who tested positive for both flu and COVID-19, compared to those with COVID-19 alone.
The research, looking at cases between January and April this year, also found that those infected with both viruses were more at risk of severe illness. Most cases were in older people and more than half of them died.
Flu is a serious condition that kills on average 11,000 people in England each year and hospitalises many more. Adults at high risk from flu are also most at risk from COVID-19 and the free vaccine is more important than ever, to help protect people in the East Midlands from a double threat this winter.
This year, the programme is being expanded to help protect people and ease pressure on the NHS and urgent care services.
The health system is working to provide the free vaccine to the highest number on record.
All primary school children and, for the first time, Year 7 children will be offered the flu ‘nasal spray’ in schools to reduce community transmission. Two and three-year olds will be offered the vaccine through their GP.
The most vulnerable, including adults aged 65 and over or living in care homes, those with long-term health conditions and pregnant women, will be offered the flu vaccine first through their GP or pharmacy.
The flu vaccine will also be offered to household contacts of people on the NHS Shielded Patient List and all health and all social care workers who have direct contact with the people they care for. It will also be for people who receive a carer’s allowance, or you are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if you fall ill
Once uptake has been maximised in the most at-risk groups, the newly eligible 50-64-year olds will be invited for vaccination later in the season. Anyone who is 50-64 years old with a long-term health condition should be vaccinated earlier in the season, in line with all others in risk groups.
The flu vaccine reduces the risk of catching flu, as well as spreading it to others, and it is more effective to get the vaccine before the start of the flu season (December to March). Flu can cause severe illness and even death among vulnerable groups, as well as complications like bronchitis and pneumonia, so it is particularly important to have the flu vaccine, which is available free of charge on the NHS, if you:
As part of England’s biggest ever flu campaign – alongside adverts across the media and posters in key locations such as GP surgeries, pharmacies and hospitals – eligible people will receive additional direct reminders prompting them to book their appointment, supporting the hard work of local GP practices and pharmacies in driving uptake among their registered eligible patients.
“Flu is unpredictable and can be unpleasant, and symptoms come on very quickly and include a sudden fever – a temperature of 38C or above, an aching body, feeling tired or exhausted, a dry cough, a sore throat, a headache, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, diarrhea or tummy pain, feeling sick and being sick,” explains Dr Dave Baker, GP and South West Lincolnshire Locality Lead for Lincolnshire Clinical Commissioning Group.
Children experience similar symptoms, but can also get pain in their ear, and appear less active.
“The good news is you can often treat the flu yourself, without seeing a GP, and you should begin to feel better in about a week. To treat flu yourself and get better more quickly, you need to get rest and sleep, keep warm, take paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower your temperature and treat aches and pains, and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration (your pee should be light yellow or clear),” adds Dr Baker.
“Your local pharmacist can give treatment advice and recommend flu remedies, although be careful not to use flu remedies if you’re taking paracetamol or ibuprofen, as it’s easy to take more than the recommended dose. Also, do not go to your pharmacy if you have a high temperature, a new, continuous cough or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – this could be coronavirus, and you should ask someone to go for you if you can.”
To help increase uptake in the social care sector, for the first time pharmacists will be able to vaccinate both residents and care home staff at the same time.
Employers of frontline health and social care workers also have a responsibility to ensure their staff can get the free vaccine. A record number of NHS staff – three quarters of a million (74.3 per cent) frontline healthcare workers – took up their workplace vaccination last year.
Overall nearly two thirds of eligible people received their free vaccine last year, making uptake rates in England among the highest in Europe.
David Pearce, Deputy Director of Health Protection at PHE Midlands said: “Flu season’s just around the corner and given the pressures of the coronavirus pandemic, you’d be forgiven for forgetting all about influenza. Like coronavirus, flu can hospitalise and even cause death and the threat of both coexisting in our communities this winter is very real.
“That’s why it’s incredibly important to protect yourself and your family by getting the flu jab if you are offered one. Give yourself a fighting chance this winter and stop flu in its tracks - Coronavirus doesn’t need a friend.”
The Regional Medical Director for the Midlands, Nigel Sturrock, said: “Patients with pre-existing health conditions were adversely affected with Coronavirus and the same thing can happen with flu. So, if you have chest problems, if you have got diabetes and any condition where we are saying you will benefit from being protected from flu, it is in your interest to have that vaccine. It will offer you protection against flu and that is so important this coming winter. More important than ever before because of what we have seen in the last six months.
“I would urge parents to take their children to be vaccinated because this will be vital in protecting the whole family especially grandparents who may be vulnerable.
“We recognise that many people have legitimate concerns about the jab and a number of myths have been circulating over the years. Many people worry that the vaccine can give you the flu, but this isn’t possible as there is no live influenza virus in the vaccine. There is no need for anyone to worry about giving the vaccine to their children, or if they are pregnant, the vaccine affecting their baby.
“Studies have proven the vaccine will help prevent flu in patients and reduce the length and strength of flu if caught. Flu viruses change every year, so people need to update their vaccination each year to match the new virus.”
Dr Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director at Public Health England, said: “It is dangerous to dismiss influenza as ‘just’ the flu – it can be extremely serious and can lead to hospitalisation, permanent disability or even death.
“The flu vaccine is more important than ever, to help reduce transmission of flu and protect the nation from the double threat of flu and COVID-19. You may be offered it for the first time this year – it is important that you take up the offer to protect yourself and others.”
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, said: “Flu can be deadly and it is easily spread in children and adults. The vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from becoming ill with the flu, especially if you are in a vulnerable group.
“This winter with COVID still circulating, and the increased risk to life if you are ill with both viruses simultaneously, it is even more vital to get the free jab as soon as you can.”
The unprecedented vaccine drive will be supported by a scaled-up marketing campaign across TV, radio and digital advertising. The ‘Just’ The Flu campaign, launching in early October, will reinforce the seriousness of flu, urge people to re-evaluate their own risk to the virus and remind people that vaccination is the best protection for themselves and those around them.
For more information visit https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/flu-influenza-vaccine/