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"Stay Well This Winter", a joint initiative between Public Health England and NHS England, has marked its 2017 launch by urging anyone vulnerable to flu to make sure they have their free vaccination.

Having the vaccination now, before the winter period when the flu virus is most common, is the best way to protect yourself against it. While a fit and healthy person might be ‘laid low’ by flu for two or three days, the effects of the virus could be much worse for those in certain vulnerable groups.

 These include the elderly, anyone with an underlying medical condition, young children and pregnant women. People in these groups are entitled to a free flu vaccination from the NHS, which this year is being offered to more people than ever before. Those who regularly care for others are also being offered free vaccinations, because while they might shrug off the flu virus, they could pass it on to the more vulnerable people they care for.

Children are offered the vaccination in the form of a nasal spray and it is free for those up to school year 4, usually administered at school by a health professional. This is an important way to limit the spread of any flu outbreak as children are classified as ‘super spreaders’ of the virus.

It is also vital that anyone with a long-term health condition which makes them more vulnerable to the effects of flu is vaccinated against it. Such conditions include heart, kidney or liver disease, diabetes, respiratory conditions, neurological conditions, issues relating to the spleen and being seriously overweight.

If you have had a free NHS flu jab before, or if you have turned 65 in the past year, you should be automatically invited to come in for your jab by your GP surgery. However, if you fall into any of the above groups and haven’t heard anything, you should contact your GP surgery to make inquiries. Even if you don’t qualify for a free flu jab on the NHS, but feel you would benefit from one, they are available at many local or high street pharmacies for a small charge, usually £10 to £15.

Around 21 million people are being offered the free vaccination by Public Health England this year, more than ever before. Its Medical Director, Professor Paul Cosford, said: “This year we are offering the nasal spray vaccine to more children than ever. Ensuring children get vaccinated is extremely important not only to protect them from flu but also to stop then spreading it to vulnerable groups they come in to contact with.

“For someone with a long-term health condition like asthma or COPD, flu has the potential to turn very serious. We want as many eligible people as possible to get their jab, as it is the best way to protect everyone from flu and minimise the burden on the NHS during the season when it faces the most pressures.”

Having an annual flu jab isn’t a 100% guarantee against catching flu, but it does offer the best protection there is. And even if you still catch flu after having the vaccine, it should be shorter-lived and its symptoms less severe. Some people avoid having the vaccine (even if they are eligible for a free jab) because they think it will give them a small dose of flu, but this is a complete myth. It is impossible to catch flu from having the flu vaccine and at worst you might have a slightly sore arm for a couple of days.

You can find out more about why having the flu jab is important on the “Stay Well This Winter” website, by clicking here. It also has a tool to find contact details for your local GP or a local pharmacy simply by entering your postcode.

The website also provides other details on how to stay healthy through the winter months and if you want the information for someone else you can download and print off leaflets in easy-read and large print formats. There are also videos to watch, including one in sign language for the hard of hearing.

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