The onset of winter brings colder weather and darker nights, which will inevitably mean we all meet friends and family indoors where it is less well ventilated.
This will increase the risk of virus transmission at a time when people up and down the country are likely to have a lower immunity to flu due to lower levels in circulation last winter.
With fewer Covid-19 restrictions in place this year than last, behaving sensibly will be vital if we are to stay healthy and maintain all the freedoms that will allow us to have a fun-filled festive season.
There are a number of things everyone can do to stop the spread of Covid-19 or flu viruses in the coming months.
Chief among them is to make sure you are vaccinated, as Covid-19 and flu vaccines are the best protection we have against these life-threatening viruses. Those who are unvaccinated should come forward for their first and second doses, while those who have had their second Covid-19 vaccine at least six months ago, and are in one of the eligible groups, will be invited for a booster jab.
This is particularly important when you consider that approximately 11,000 people in England die from flu in an average year. Covid-19 vaccines have already saved tens of thousands of lives, and will save many more so long as people get their boosters (the latest data shows that protection provided by the vaccine falls after six months, particularly for older adults and at-risk groups).
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said: “We are facing a challenging winter but we can all help ourselves and those around us by taking up the COVID-19 booster and flu vaccine, if eligible.
“Getting vaccinated against both viruses will not only help to protect us and our loved ones, but will also help protect the NHS from potential strain this winter.”
Those who can have the Covid-19 booster vaccine (six months after their second dose) are: anyone aged 50 and over; people aged 16 and over with a health condition that puts them at high risk of getting seriously ill from Covid-19; people who are pregnant and in one of the eligible groups; people who live and work in care homes; people aged 16 and over who live with someone who is more likely to get infections (such as someone who has HIV, has had a transplant or is having certain treatments for cancer, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis); and frontline health and social care workers.
Those eligible for the flu vaccine are as follows: anyone aged 50 and over (including those who will be 50 by 31 March 2022); people with certain health conditions; pregnant women; carers; frontline health or social care workers; children aged two or three on 31 August 2021; all primary school children (reception to year 6); all year 7 to year 11 children in secondary school; and children aged 2 to 17 years with long-term health conditions.
While most people have two doses as part of their first course and many are then eligible for a booster, vaccination experts have recommended three doses in the ‘primary course’ for people who have a severely weakened immune system, to get a good level of protection from Covid-19.
The vaccine is currently being delivered from a range of settings – such as walk-in and mobile vaccination sites – to make accessing the vaccination offer as convenient as possible, particularly for our deprived and underserved communities.
As with the Phase 1 and 2 roll-out, booster jabs will be available at a range of locations. Those eligible for a Covid-19 booster vaccine should book as soon as they are invited.
Helen Baimbridge, 44, who lives with her husband Dave and five-year-old son in Haddenham, Buckinghamshire, is clinically extremely vulnerable and has had both her Covid-19 booster and flu jabs.
“I was very happy to have my [Covid] vaccine booster given that those who are immune-suppressed may have a less than adequate response to the vaccine, and that vaccine efficacy diminishes after six months,” she said.
“I know people who've been double vaccinated [first and second course of the Covid-19 vaccine], that have then become Covid positive and haven't had any symptoms, and I know people that have been double vaccinated and become Covid positive and had shocking symptoms, so for me, because we don't know what the disease will do in each individual person ... it makes absolute sense to give yourself as much protection as you can.”
This winter, underestimating the combined threat of Covid-19 and flu could cost lives, so make sure you, your family and your friends are protected.
To check your eligibility for the flu vaccine and Covid-19 booster vaccine or to find a service visit nhs.uk/wintervaccinations.
Your Covid-19 booster vaccine questions answered
Why is the Covid-19 booster programme needed?
The NHS wants to provide the people that are most likely to become seriously ill from Covid-19 and those who care for them with the best possible protection for this winter. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has reviewed available data and provided advice that Covid-19 boosters are offered to the most vulnerable in order to maintain protection throughout the winter months.
How soon after a second Covid vaccine dose will a Covid booster be offered?
JCVI advises that the booster vaccine dose is offered no earlier than six months after completion of the primary vaccine course (your second dose).
Where will Covid booster vaccine appointments be available?
The NHS will let eligible people know how to get their booster which people can have from six months after their second dose. People with certain health conditions may be offered the Covid-19 booster earlier. Thousands of locations across the country offer a Covid-19 booster to give people choice and convenient access. If you are eligible, you will be able to book an appointment at a vaccination centre, designated pharmacy or GP-led service using the NHS Covid-19 national booking service or you can simply go to a walk-in service by using the NHS ‘Grab a Jab’ walk-in site finder. This is alongside many GP-led services and hospitals directly inviting people to be vaccinated through their services.
I’m pregnant – is it safe to get the Covid and flu jabs?
Yes – both are safe for pregnant women, and it’s important to have both if eligible. There are more risks for you and your pregnancy if you contract Covid-19 without the vaccine, and the flu vaccine will also help protect your unborn baby. If you catch flu when pregnant, you’re at risk from complications such as bronchitis and it could cause your baby to be born prematurely, have a low birthweight and may even lead to stillbirth. If you’re pregnant you can get a free flu vaccine from your GP, pharmacist or through your maternity service.
I’ve tested positive for Covid-19, can I still get a Covid booster vaccine?
If you have recently tested positive for Covid-19, you should wait 28 days before booking if you’ve had a positive test, starting from the date you had the test.
Will I get both my Covid-19 and flu vaccines at the same time and is that safe?
If you’re eligible for both vaccines, you are most likely to be offered these vaccines at separate appointments. However, studies show that getting the flu and Covid-19 vaccines together is safe and effective.
Your flu vaccine questions answered
Why didn’t we see much flu in the 2020/21 season?
Several factors are likely to have contributed to a reduction in flu levels, including public health measures put in place to stop the transmission of Covid-19, such as social distancing, face coverings, hand washing, as well as a reduction in international travel.
Will we be more vulnerable to flu this year?
Different strains of flu circulate each year. More strains may be in circulation this year as there were few flu cases last season. This means there is less immunity against last year’s strains in the population and they could continue circulating this year along with the new strains.
What flu vaccine is available to children?
The children’s quick and painless nasal spray flu vaccine is offered to children aged two to three years by their GP and children in school up to year 11 are offered their vaccine in schools. At risk babies under two years old are also offered the vaccine.
How effective is the flu vaccine?
Flu vaccines help protect against flu viruses, although there's still a chance you might get flu. If you do get the flu after vaccination, it's likely to be milder and not last as long. Having the flu vaccine will also stop you from spreading the flu to other people who may be more at risk of serious problems from the flu. It can take 10 to 14 days for the flu vaccine to work.
Are there any side effects to the flu vaccine?
Side effects of the nasal vaccine may commonly include a runny or blocked nose, headache, tiredness and some loss of appetite. Those having the injected vaccine may get a sore arm at the site of the injection, a low-grade fever and aching muscles for a day or two after the vaccination. Serious side effects with either the nasal spray or injection are extremely rare.
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