Protect your health this winter
As the nights draw in, it’s time to think about protecting our health this winter. We are preparing for a tough few months – with the potential for a further Covid-19 wave and a difficult flu season – and of course not everything can be prevented. But we can reduce the risk of Covid-19 and flu through vaccination.
Millions of Brits are eligible for the flu vaccine and Covid-19 booster vaccinations – through age, long-term health conditions, pregnancy or a host of other criteria. Some people may not realise they’re eligible – or why – but the list has been drawn up to ensure those most at risk from serious harm from either Covid-19 or the flu are given protection that will help them and those around them.
Who is eligible?
The largest cohort of those eligible for a booster jab or a flu vaccine are those over 50, where we know the risk of serious harm from Covid-19 is higher.
But many people younger than 50 are also at higher risk than the rest of the population – and they’re encouraged to get booked in as soon as possible to boost their protection.
That includes people with long-term health conditions, including diabetes or asthma, as well as pregnant women at any stage in their pregnancy.
Eligibility for NHS flu vaccine and COVID-19 booster include those who are:
Those eligible for NHS influenza vaccination and Covid-19 boosters in 2022/23 are:
● Individuals aged 50 years and over
●Individuals under 50 in clinical risk groups (from six months old for flu and from five years old for COVID19)
● pregnant women – at any stage in their pregnancy
●Individuals in long-stay residential care homes
● carers who receive a carer’s allowance, or who is the main carer of an elderly or disabled person who is at an increased risk from flu
● close contacts of immunosuppressed individuals
● Frontline health and social care workers are eligible for both vaccines and should be offered a flu vaccine through their employer.
As well as people living with:
○ chronic (long-term) respiratory disease, such as asthma (requirescontinuous or repeated use of inhaled or systemic steroids or with previous exacerbations requiring hospital admission), chronicobstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or bronchitis
○ chronic heart disease
○ chronic kidney disease at stage 3, 4 or 5
○ chronic liver disease
○ chronic neurological disease, such as Parkinson’s disease or motorneurone disease
○ learning disability
○ Asplenia or splenic dysfunction, such as coeliac syndrome.
○ a weakened immune system due to disease (such as HIV/AIDS) or treatment (such as cancer treatment)
○ And those with severe mental illness, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, are eligible for a COVID-19 booster only
●Individuals eligible for the flu vaccine only: Children aged 2-3 year olds on 31st August 2022, primary school children and some secondary school children, through the use of Nasal Spray
Isn’t Covid-19 over? And is the flu really that bad?
Living with Covid-19 isn’t the same as living without it. The virus continues to be a real threat, especially to the unvaccinated in high-risk groups. You are up to three times more likely to be hospitalised with Covid-19 if you have not had a booster dose for over six months. By contrast, within 14 days of receiving your booster, your immunity against Covid-19 will be increased to about 90 per cent protection against serious illness.
Getting your booster doesn’t just protect you – but protects those around you, as well as reducing the pressure on the NHS.
Meanwhile, flu hasn’t left us. In an average year the flu virus kills around 11,000 people and hospitalises tens of thousands more in England.
Both flu and Covid-19 can be life-threatening – and research has shown that you’re more likely to be seriously ill if you get flu and Covid-19 at the same time. Vaccinations are the best protections from both viruses.
Adam Smith is a familiar face to sports fans, as one of the presenters on Sky Sports. He’s one of 8.8m people in the country with a long-term health condition that means he’s at greater risk from Covid-19 and the flu.
“As a type 1 diabetic, I’m fully aware that the potential side effects of contracting flu or Covid-19 can be more severe and play havoc with my blood sugar levels,” he says.
Adam wants to be on top form for a busy sporting year, including the World Cup.
“I don’t want to take any chances, which is why I will be getting my Covid-19 and flu jabs this winter.”
I’m pregnant – and I’m confused about what I’m allowed to have?
All pregnant women are eligible for both flu and Covid-19 jabs, and those jabs have been shown to be safe at every stage of pregnancy – as well as protecting you and your unborn child from the effects of flu.
The flu vaccine can reduce the risk of serious complications such as pneumonia, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy.
Additionally, Flu infection increases the chances of of pregnant women and their babies needing intensive care. And unvaccinated women, who got COVID-19 while pregnant, were more likely to give birth prematurely and at higher risk of the baby being born with complications.
Further recent research published in a respected American health journal suggests that even mild cases of Covid-19 during pregnancy ‘exhaust’ the placenta and damage its immune response.
If you’re pregnant, the best way to protect yourself and your baby is to get your flu and Covid-19 booster jabs.
Is the vaccine safe?
Over 53 million people across the UK have received at least one Covid-19 jab since the uptake of vaccination, whereas the flu vaccine has been a part of our healthcare armoury for years. Both jabs have good safety records, and both are the best protection against these viruses this winter.
Vaccines are only made available to the public after satisfying strict safety and effectiveness checks, and the UK’s independent MHRA has authorised all Covid-19 vaccines used in the UK for safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality.
Whilst there are side effects for some, these are generally mild and usually don’t last for long.
Mum-of-two Nicole Ratcliffe has lived with ulcerative colitis since she was in her 20s and, like many other people with a weakened immune system, she says keeping up to date with her Covid-19 and flu vaccinations is vital.
“Ulcerative colitis is like Crohn’s disease – it attacks the immune system and if I have a flare-up I can get quite poorly, with inflammation, bleeding and going to the toilet 30 or 40 times a day. You can’t live like that, so I have regular doses of immunosuppressants,” says Nicole, 41, from Manchester, who’s mum to Sofia, six, and two-year-old Alyssia.
Nicole runs her own business and has all the duties of a mum, too. When Covid-19 hit she was on the shielding list – so the development of a vaccine was vital to getting back to normality.
Nicole was waiting for a message from her GP to call her for the Covid-19 vaccine – and when she was also offered the flu vaccine on the same day she was happy to take both. “I had two sore arms, but I was so relieved to get my vaccinations. I always make sure I’m up to date and have a flu vaccine every year,” she says.
Now Nicole feels relieved to be able to live life to the full, knowing she’s protected. “Everybody in our family has had their vaccinations, so we’re able to go and visit grandparents.
“People say: ‘The vaccine doesn’t stop you getting Covid,’ but it does stop you from getting very ill with it, which is what’s important to me.”
What are the risks?
People with long-term health conditions are at higher risk from Covid-19 and flu than others – especially if unvaccinated. For example:
- If you have liver disease, you are over 48 times more likely to die from flu and are also at high risk of serious illness from Covid-19
- If you are immuno suppresssed, you are over 47 times more likely to die from flu and are also at high risk of serious illness from Covid-19
- Those with heart disease are over 11 times more likely to die from flu and are also at high risk of serious illness from Covid-19
- Those with diabetes are over 6 times more likely to die from flu and are also at high risk of serious illness from Covid-19
- For those who are diabetic or have kidney, heart or respiratory diseases, the risk of dying increases by between 6 and 19-fold.
What do I need to do?
Visit nhs.uk/wintervaccinations to check your eligibility, and book in.
Remember – these jabs are the best way to protect yourself and the ones you love this winter.