Health experts are urging eligible and vulnerable groups to get vaccinated ahead of what could be another nasty flu and COVID season. Whether you’re unsure about getting vaccinated or want to find out what’s due when, here’s what you need to know, including why it’s so important to get protected sooner, rather than later.
- A new wave of COVID is expected
Since reporting on a new COVID variant earlier this month, health officials have taken the sensible decision to bring forward its seasonal COVID (and flu) vaccination roll-out.
By starting it earlier (mid-September), the NHS hopes to vaccinate as many people as possible before the end of October, protecting those most at risk of becoming seriously ill or suffering complications from catching COVID (again).
Those eligible for the COVID vaccine this month include:
- over 65s
- health and social care workers
- anyone who has or lives with someone with a weakened immune system (aged 12-64)
- anyone considered at clinical risk (aged 6 months-64 years)
- care home residents.
Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS England Medical Director reminds people that vaccinations are ‘our best defence against flu and COVID-19 ahead of what could be a very challenging winter, and with the potential for this new covid variant to increase the risk of infection, we are following the latest expert guidance and bringing the covid vaccination programme forward, with people able to get their flu vaccine at the same time to maximise protection.
He urges people to ‘please come forward to get your protection against both covid and flu as soon as possible once invited – it will help protect you and those around you this winter.’
Your GP practice will contact you when it’s your turn, if you are eligible.
- Flu is more than ‘just a cold’
Even if you’re not eligible for a COVID vaccine you may be eligible for a flu vaccine. That’s because more groups are able to have this via the NHS, such as pregnant women and children (see below for more on this). Those who aren’t can pay for a private vaccine whereas there is still no option to do this with COVID jabs, yet.
Hopefully you’ll come forward for a flu vaccine, but whatever you do, don’t rule it out thinking the flu is just a cold.
‘The flu is more than “just a cold”’ says ZoomDoc’s Chief Medical Officer and GP, Dr Kenny Livingstone.
‘It tends to come on suddenly and is highly infectious, sometimes causing complications such as pneumonia, which can be fatal,’.
In fact, last year the flu caused 14,500 excess deaths, the highest number since 2017/18. (Source: gov.uk).
Vaccinations are important as they not only offer protection to those vaccinated, they also help protect people who can’t be, for health reasons (see below for more on vaccine exemption). They also help reduce hospital admissions by as much as two-thirds, according to recent data looking at last year’s flu season.
- Little ones can get flu too
Parents are also being urged to get their children vaccinated against flu. Last winter, 10,000 children were hospitalised in the UK due to flu or complications related to the virus, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). What’s more, under 5s have one of the highest rates of hospital admissions due to flu.
‘Getting little ones vaccinated protects them against the virus and helps stop the spread to vulnerable people who may not be able to get vaccinated. It also helps to relieve pressure on the NHS, which is already overstretched,’ says Dr Kenny.
So who is eligible for the vaccine?
This autumn, preschool children aged 2 and 3 can have the vaccine, given as a nasal spray, through their GP.
Schools will arrange vaccination days for primary and secondary school children (aged 4-16). It is quick, painless and gives peace of mind and protection over the winter when flu season peaks.
Children between 6 months and 2 years will only require a flu vaccine if they have a long-term health condition.
- You’ll help those who can’t have vaccines
Not everyone is able to have a vaccine for various reasons including those with:
- severe allergies
- history of anaphylaxis to a vaccine
- known allergy to vaccine components
- severe or terminal illness.
This leaves them vulnerable to infectious diseases such as COVID and flu, amongst others.
The more eligible people who get vaccinated, the less people catch the disease. And if there are fewer cases, there is less chance of an elderly or vulnerable person catching it. ‘So think of it as saving someone else’s life,’ says Dr Kenny.
Know someone who’s vaccine exempt?
If you or someone you know are exempt from having vaccines, you can now get yourself a Vaccine Exemption Certificate for employer or travel purposes.
For just £40 and with verifiable proof of a clinical indication for exemption, ZoomDoc can issue a same-day certificate.
- You won’t need time off work
Protecting yourself against seasonal waves of COVID and flu will also mean you’ll stay fit for work.
There are huge numbers of people in this country off on sick leave, which not only impacts their lives and finances, but also costs the economy millions.
‘We issue hundreds of sick notes and medical letters for patients with a number of different conditions and disabilities keeping them off work,’ says Dr Kenny. ‘Flu and COVID are no preventable thanks to vaccines, so don’t let them keep you off work this year,’ he says.
- Vaccines are safe
If you’ve heard or read somewhere that vaccines – whether for COVID, flu or any other disease – aren’t safe, it simply isn’t true.
‘Vaccines cannot be approved in the UK without passing strict safety and efficacy checks carried out by the UK’s Independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). They then also have to be recommended by the Joint Committee on Vaccine and Immunisation (JCVI),’ says Dr Kenny.
If you’re eligible for any vaccines this autumn, contact your GP practice if you’ve not yet received a letter, text or email from them about booking your COVID or flu jab.