The health service in England has prepared for its largest ever flu protection drive to help keep people well and ease pressure on urgent care services over the colder months.
The number of people eligible has topped 25 million this year as the offer of the vaccine is now extended to all primary school aged children – an extra 600,000 children. NHS commissioned school vaccination teams, maternity services, general practices and local pharmacies are all now gearing up to deliver vaccines to primary school aged children, two and three-year olds, those with underlying health conditions, pregnant women and older adults (aged 65 years and over).
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 – almost three quarters of a million, or 70.3% of frontline workers – took up their workplace jab last year.
Professor Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director at Public Health England, said:
“Every winter there is always the threat of a bad flu season. Flu is a serious illness and can even be deadly for the most vulnerable of our population.
“That’s why it’s vital that we are prepared and always working to offer people better protection.
“This year, more vaccines are available and every primary school child will be offered a flu vaccine. Children are ‘super spreaders’ of flu. Flu vaccination not only protects the children but it also protects other more vulnerable members of the community from a potentially horrible illness.
“If you or your child are in an eligible group, make sure you get a flu vaccine. It’s the best defence we have against an unpredictable virus”
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England national medical director, said:
“People might think that flu is just a cough or cold, but actually this serious illness can have devastating effects on people including causing death in some cases.
“NHS services across in England have been working hard to prepare for the winter season, including staff in every part of the country getting their flu jab in the coming weeks, so now we’re appealing to the public to Help Us, Help You by ensuring that you, your children or relatives take up the free and convenient flu vaccine as soon as you can.”
This year, a wider range of flu vaccines are available which should offer better protection. This includes the ‘adjuvanted’ vaccine which was offered to those aged 65 years and over for the first-time last year. The adjuvanted vaccine provided a higher level of protection compared to the standard non-adjuvanted vaccines in this age group last year.
In addition, a new cell-based vaccine which protects against four strains of flu (quadrivalent) will also be available. As the vaccine virus is grown in cells, rather than eggs, this avoids the changes that can occur when using eggs in the manufacturing process (egg adaptation). There is increasing evidence in recent seasons that egg adaptation may mean that vaccines do not work as well, particularly against the A(H3N2) virus strain. This vaccine should offer better protection for older people against flu than standard-dose, non-adjuvanted vaccines that are grown in eggs. The cell-based vaccine has been recommended for both older adults and for under 65s with underlying health conditions and pregnant women. Children will continue to be given the nasal spray vaccine unless they have a medical condition that means they should receive the injectable version.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Jonathan Van Tam said:
“Flu is a potentially fatal illness and one that can spread quickly. Alongside frontline healthcare workers, tens of millions of over-65s, children and adults in at-risk groups will be offered the vaccine this year and I would urge them, and those that care for them, to ensure this free opportunity is taken up in the coming weeks.
“Having the vaccine is the single best way to protect against flu and will be an important step in preventing not only you, but your family, friends and colleagues from this debilitating illness.”
Flu vaccination is the single best defence against what can be a serious illness. Flu is a highly infectious disease and can lead to serious complications particularly for people with underlying health condition such as COPD, bronchitis, emphysema, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease or a chronic neurological disease like multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and some learning disabilities. Flu on top of health conditions like these increases the chance of serious health complications resulting in a hospital visit.
NHS England is funding vaccines for social care, with older adults more vulnerable and liable to suffer more than most people if they do catch flu. Protecting children is also crucial for protecting the rest of the population as they tend to be ‘super spreaders’ of flu due to poorer hand hygiene.
Eligible adults are encouraged to get their free vaccine from their GP or pharmacy to help protect themselves and their families before flu reaches its seasonal peak.
As well as getting the vaccine, practising good hand hygiene by catching coughs and sneezes in a tissue, throwing it away and washing your hands after can help limit its spread – catch it, bin it, kill it.