New research from Public Health England (PHE) shows people are at a much higher risk of severe illness if they test positive for both flu and COVID-19, rather than just COVID-19 alone.
Flu is a serious illness 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 being extremely unwell if they catch COVID-19. The flu vaccine, free to at-risk patients, is more important than ever to help protect people from the twin issues of flu and COVID-19 this winter.
This year, the flu vaccine programme is being expanded to help protect people from the virus and ease pressure on the NHS and urgent care services.
What changes have been made?
- 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, 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.
- 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 long-term health condition should be vaccinated earlier in the season, in line with all others in risk groups. As a result, they currently do not need to contact their GP practice to arrange a vaccination unless they have a long-term health condition and then they should be vaccinated earlier in the season, in line with all others in risk groups.
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%) of frontline healthcare workers – took up their workplace vaccination last year.
During the 2019-20 flu season, only 70.7% of over 65 year olds and 41.2% of people under 65 who were in at risk group got their free flu jab in Warrington, both under the national targets.
However, 70.1% of primary school children in Warrington got their free flu vaccine, exceeding the 65% national target.
Cllr Maureen McLaughlin, cabinet member for public health and wellbeing said: “It is vital that people take advantage of their free flu jab if they are eligible to do so, especially this year. If infected by both flu and coronavirus, you could be at risk of more severe illness. NHS workers and urgent care staff can also get a free flu vaccine this year to help protect themselves and the people they care for.
“We urge everyone to take flu seriously, this year more than ever, and to make sure that you have the vaccine if you are able.”
Dr Andrew Davies, Clinical Chief Officer for NHS Warrington Clinical Commissioning Group said:
“This year, it is more vital than ever that we protect as many people as possible from flu which will also help to ease pressures on our local NHS services. If you are eligible to have the free flu vaccination, please remember it is the best protection for you and those around you. Our local GP practices are currently working hard to contact patients over 65 and those in ‘at risk’ groups to arrange for them to receive their flu vaccine.
“If you are aged between 50-64, and not in a medically defined ‘at risk group’, please do not contact your surgery regarding a flu immunisation just yet. You will be contacted as soon as national guidance changes and when those identified as most at risk have been vaccinated.”
Visit nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/flu-influenza-vaccine to find out more about at-risk groups, the flu vaccine and where to get it.
Notes to editors:
- Free flu vaccinations will be given to social care workers employed directly by the council, but the scheme does not include carers employed by commissioned care providers.
- National vaccination rate goals by Public Health England for 2019/20 were 75% of 65+, 55% of under 65 and at risk, 65% of primary school aged children.