Once more, in a major drive to protect the community from flu this winter, NHS Blackburn with Darwen and NHS East Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) are using their Protect Your Family campaign to urge all eligible people to get vaccinated against flu this year.
The plea comes to help protect the nation from the double threat of flu and coronavirus (Covid-19) this winter. Whilst the flu vaccination won’t protect against Covid-19 it is critical in protecting the general health of the population, particularly those at high risk from Covid-19. Unfortunately many of the groups who are vulnerable to flu are also more vulnerable to Covid-19.
This year, the flu programme is being expanded with vaccination being offered to more groups than ever in an effort to help protect people from flu and ease pressure on the NHS and urgent care services. The flu vaccine is given free on the NHS to:
• Everyone aged 50 years and over
• Everyone under 65 years of age, including children and babies over 6 months of age, who has a long term condition such as heart problems, respiratory problems, kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes etc. (This list of conditions isn’t definitive. It’s always an issue of clinical judgement. Your GP can assess you to take into account the risk of flu making any underlying illness you may have worse, as well as your risk of serious illness from flu itself.)
• All pregnant women, at any stage of pregnancy
• All 2 and 3 year old children (provided they were aged 2 or 3 years old on 31 August 2021)
• All children in primary school
• All Year 7 to Year 11 secondary school-aged children
• Everyone living in a residential or nursing home
• Everyone who cares for an older or disabled person
• All frontline health and social care workers
Dr David White, a GP and the Clinical Lead for Urgent Care across Pennine Lancashire, said: “As we approach the winter months, it is really important that everyone takes all the necessary steps to keep themselves as well and safe as possible. This includes making sure people take up the offer as soon as possible of the free flu vaccination if eligible. It is free for a reason and that is because eligible people are more at risk of serious infection and even hospitalisation should they get the flu.
“We know that with Covid-19 still circulating, we need to help reduce all avoidable risks. Vaccinating more people will help reduce flu transmission and stop people becoming ill. It is vital that every contact counts and that all eligible patients are aware of the importance of having a flu vaccination and know where to get it be that a GP surgery flu clinic, a local pharmacy, or a visiting district nurse. In particular it is vitally important that children are vaccinated; 2 to 3 years olds need to attend their GP practice whilst school aged children will be vaccinated in school.
“The nasal vaccine is offered to children as it is more effective than the injected vaccine. However the good news this year is that for those who may not accept the use of porcine gelatine in medical products, an alternative injectable vaccine is available this year. Please don’t dismiss it out of hand without discussing your options with your nurse or doctor.
“Pregnant women can attend their GP flu clinic or may be offered a flu vaccination at their ante-natal appointment. It can be given at any stage of pregnancy and is completely safe for mum and baby.
“We need to get the eligible population in the habit of asking about their flu vaccination and where and when they can receive it. GP surgeries are already planning their flu clinics so we are encouraging patients to phone up and book an appointment.”
Flu is preventable but it can affect anyone and contrary to what many people believe, the flu is not just a bad cold; it’s a serious respiratory illness that can kill. It is a highly infectious illness which spreads rapidly in closed communities and even people with mild or no symptoms can infect others.
Flu is characterised by a fever, chills, headache, aching muscles and joint pain and fatigue. For most healthy people, flu symptoms can make you feel so exhausted and unwell that you have to stay in bed and rest until you get better. However, flu can be deadly. Around 11,000 people die annually due to flu-related complications. Of these deaths, many were in people with underlying conditions. Tens of thousands more are hospitalised.
It is especially important to consider the vaccination if you are the main carer of an older or disabled person, and/or if you live in a residential/nursing home. The vaccination will reduce the chances of getting flu and help stop the spread of the disease to those you care for, and ensure you can continue to help those you look after.
Aside from having your flu vaccine, the best way to prevent the spread of flu is to practice good hand hygiene and good respiratory etiquette. Catch coughs and sneezes in a tissue, throw the tissue away and wash your hands.
If you are unsure whether you are in one of the eligible groups being offered the free flu vaccination, please contact either your GP practice or local pharmacy. More details can also be found online at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/flu/