Record numbers of people in England will be offered a free flu jab this winter, with health chiefs urging them to take up the offer to protect themselves and their families.
As well as all over-65s and people in other ‘at risk’ groups, for the first time all primary school children will be offered the vaccine in the form of a nasal spray.
This year’s flu protection drive is the biggest ever, with the number of people eligible for a free flu jab now topping 25 million. Those who aren’t eligible for a free vaccination can also get one for a small fee, typically around £10, from high street pharmacists. As well as protecting individuals from a potentially serious dose of flu, the vaccination drive aims to ease pressure on NHS urgent care services over the difficult winter months.
Professor Stephen Powis, National Medical Director at NHS England, said: “People might think that flu is just a cough or cold, but actually this serious illness can have devastating effects on people, including causing death in some cases.
“NHS services across England have been working hard to prepare for the winter season, including NHS staff in every part of the country getting their flu jab in the coming weeks. Now we’re appealing to the public to ‘Help Us, Help You’ by ensuring that you, your children or relatives take up the free and convenient flu vaccine as soon as you can.”
This year, a wider range of flu vaccines are available which should offer better protection. This includes the ‘adjuvanted’ vaccine, which was offered to those aged 65 years and over for the first-time last year. This vaccine provided a higher level of protection compared to the standard non-adjuvanted vaccines in this age group last year.
The adjuvanted vaccine is more effective in over-65s because it improves the body’s own immune response to the vaccine. This is important because, typically, older people’s bodies do not respond as well to the flu vaccine due to their naturally weaker immune systems. Older people are also more likely to suffer complications from flu.
As well as all over-65s and children up to primary school leaving age, free vaccinations are also offered to other ‘at risk’ groups, including adults with a range of long-term health conditions, pregnant women, carers and health and social care workers. People under 65 and in these ‘at risk’ groups will be offered a ‘quadrivalent’ vaccine, protecting against four common strains of flu.
If you’ve had the free annual flu jab before, you should be contacted automatically by your GP surgery to go in for one this year. It’s important to have your flu jab every year. If you haven’t had one before but believe you are eligible for a free NHS flu jab, contact your GP surgery. Most will be arranging special flu vaccination clinics and it literally only takes a minute to get yourself protected.
Once you’ve had the jab you’ll have much greater protection throughout the coming flu season. While it’s not a 100% guarantee against getting flu, it is by far the best defence available. Even if you do still get a dose of flu, if you’ve had the jab it’s likely to be milder and more short-lived than it would otherwise have been. There’s also evidence that the flu jab can reduce your risk of having a stroke.
Remember, even if you’re not eligible for a free NHS flu jab, you can still get one for a small cost from many high street pharmacies. As well as getting the vaccine, practising good hand hygiene by catching coughs and sneezes in a tissue, throwing it away and washing your hands after can help limit its spread – catch it, bin it, kill it.