The biggest flu programme in the NHS’s history is under way and Covid booster jabs are also being rolled out.
Here, the PA news agency takes a look at the situation as we head towards winter.
– Who is eligible for a free flu vaccine?
More than 35 million people in England can take up the offer of a free flu jab this year.
People aged 50 and over, including those who will turn 50 by the end of March 2022, are eligible.
As well as this, people with certain health conditions, pregnant women, carers and those in long-stay residential care, those living with someone who is more likely to get infections, and frontline health or social care workers are also eligible.
– And what about booster coronavirus jabs?
Some 28 million people in England are eligible for a booster jab, with around 1.7 million people having had a third shot so far.
Those who can have a booster include everyone aged 50 and over, frontline health and social care workers, and those aged between 16 and 49 with an underlying health condition putting them at greater risk from Covid-19.
Boosters will be given to people at least six months after they had their second coronavirus jab.
– Can I get both jabs together?
In some areas, people might be offered the Covid jab in one arm and the flu vaccine in the other on the same day, although this will not be available everywhere.
– Flu happens every winter, so why is this the biggest flu jab programme in NHS history?
With lockdowns and social distancing last winter not many people got flu, therefore there is not as much natural immunity as there would usually be.
The spread of flu this winter might be greater than usual, making it a “significant public health concern”, according to England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam.
He warned the public we need to take “seriously” the fact that we face a winter of both Covid-19 and flu co-circulating.
– So what can we do to help ourselves?
Prof Van-Tam said we need to “defend ourselves and the NHS by getting the annual flu jab and the Covid-19 booster when called”.
He said: “Both these viruses are serious: they can both spread easily, cause hospitalisation and they can both be fatal.
“It is really important that people get their vaccines as soon as they can.”
– What if you are not eligible for a free flu vaccine?
People can make an appointment to pay for a dose at pharmacies.
– What are the predictions for how serious the situation might get this winter?
Earlier this week, Professor Neil Ferguson, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the UK does not have much “headroom” for rising Covid-19 cases before the NHS becomes “heavily stressed”.
A report in the summer from the Academy of Medical Sciences assessed the triple threat of coronavirus, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and found that hospital admissions and deaths from flu and RSV could be more than double those seen in a normal year, leading to as many as 60,000 flu deaths and 40,000 children in hospital with RSV.
– What are the hopes for uptake of the flu jab this year?
The NHS has set an ambition to reach at least 85% of people aged 65 and over.
It also hopes to reach at least 75% of people with underlying health conditions, such as asthma and heart disease, at least 75% of pregnant women and at least 70% of eligible children.
It is hoped at least 85% of frontline health and social care workers will accept a flu jab this year.
– What about the rest of the UK?
In Wales, flu vaccine coverage, which includes all those aged over 50 and secondary school pupils in years 7-11, will stretch to more than 1.5 million people.
The Welsh Government is aiming for 75% of secondary school pupils to have the flu jab and 80% of those aged 65 and over.
In Scotland, an estimated four million people – almost three-quarters of the population – have been eligible for the flu jab since September.
Eligible groups there have been extended to include teachers, prison staff and inmates, NHS contractors and those working in the Covid-19 testing programme.
In September, Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer Professor Sir Michael McBride said the circulation of Covid-19 and seasonal flu and other respiratory viruses this winter will “inevitably put further pressure on our health service”.
An estimated 900,000 people will receive a coronavirus booster jab in Northern Ireland, and Prof McBride said: “Most of the people in this group will also be eligible for the annual flu vaccine and we strongly advise them to take up this invitation as well.”
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