Flu season is nearly upon us – and if the experience of those in Australia is anything to go by, it’s going to be a tough winter.
Experts have warned that the UK must now prepare for a large early wave of flu, the BBC reported, after lots of countries in the Southern Hemisphere were hit hard by it.
It’s thought eased Covid-19 restrictions, combined with reduced immunity to flu from a couple of years of lockdowns, could be responsible.
Health professionals are urging anyone who’s eligible to get their flu vaccines as soon as possible. This is because the vaccine is one of the best ways to stay protected against the virus.
Here’s what you need to know about this year’s flu season and, most importantly, when and where to get your flu jab.
Who is eligible for this year’s flu jab?
This year, the following people are eligible for a free flu vaccine:
- all children aged 2 or 3 years on August 31 2022
- all primary school aged children (from reception to Year 6)
- secondary school-aged children focusing on Years 7, 8 and 9 and any remaining vaccine will be offered to years 10 and 11, subject to vaccine availability
- those aged 6 months to under 65 years in clinical risk groups
- pregnant women
- those aged 65 years and over
- those in long-stay residential care homes
- close contacts of immunocompromised individuals
- those aged 50 to 64 years old not in clinical risk groups (including those who turn 50 by 31 March 2023)
- frontline staff
Anyone else can have a flu vaccine but they’ll need to pay for it. It costs between £15-£20 depending on where you go to have it, so it’s worth shopping around.
When will people be called up to have a flu jab?
GPs have been contacting those who are eligible since the start of September via letter, email, phone call, text or social media. Some will be told to make an appointment for vaccines during face-to-face interactions at their GP surgery or pharmacy.
Some eligible groups will be called later than others. For example, vaccination of healthy 50- to 64-year-olds will begin from October 15.
Eligible individuals may be offered the flu and Covid jab at the same appointment. The doses have been approved to be co-administered, according to the NHS.
Where can I get the flu vaccine?
Vaccines are typically available at your GP surgery or local pharmacy. Pregnant women can usually get them at the hospital where they’re having midwife appointments and scans.
If you’re not eligible, you’ll need to be proactive and book yourself in for one. You can do this at most pharmacies, including Boots and Superdrug. Find out which local pharmacy is offering the vaccine here.
Which vaccine do you need?
There are a few different types of flu vaccine available, however your GP or pharmacy will be able to determine which you need.
Most people under 65 will require a quadrivalent vaccine, which basically fights against four strains of the flu virus. Some of these vaccines are made using egg-based technology, which means people with egg allergies are more at risk of having a reaction.
If you do have an egg allergy, speak to your GP or pharmacist ahead of your appointment as there are low-egg and egg-free vaccines available.
Those aged 65 and over are offered a vaccine which contains an extra ingredient to help boost the immune system.
Children over the age of two are offered a flu vaccine in the form of a nasal spray – although some kids aged between six months and two years who have a long-term health condition may be offered an approved injected flu vaccine instead.
Will there be a spike in flu cases this year?
The past few years have seen relatively low numbers of flu in the community, largely down to people taking extra precautions to protect themselves from Covid 19.
This year, health experts are concerned that flu might be more prevalent due to fewer people wearing masks, practicing social distancing and doing all of the other things we’ve been doing to protect against Covid-19.
Australia is nearing the end of its worst flu season in five years, NBC News reported, with children most impacted. This could signal a problematic season for the Northern Hemisphere.
Why are children impacted?
Around half of hospitalised flu cases in Australia have been in people under 19 years of age, including in children and infants younger than five.
Associate professor Margie Danchin, a paediatrician at The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, strongly recommends that children have the flu shot this year. “I’m a paediatrician, and unfortunately, I’ve looked after many kids in hospital who are severely ill from the flu,” she wrote in a piece for the Australian Academy of Science back in July, at the height of Australia’s flu season.
“Kids can be admitted to hospital with complications as serious as pneumonia or inflammation of the heart or brain, which can sometimes lead to death.”
She suggested that eased Covid-19 restrictions and opening up international borders again led to flu circulating widely. Children – particularly those under two – haven’t been able to build up immunity to flu during the pandemic, she said, “because they were not exposed to flu and have had lower vaccine coverage over the last two years”. This makes them especially vulnerable.
Children under the age of two are not on the list of eligible groups for the free flu vaccine – unless they have an underlying health condition. HuffPost UK contacted NHS England and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) about this and a spokesperson from UKHSA said parents of under-twos can contact their GPs to get the best advice.
If you have a child under two, it’s worth calling your GP to see if you can get them booked in for a vaccine. The jab can’t be given to babies under six months of age, however, which is why it’s worth getting the vaccine in pregnancy.
What are the symptoms of flu?
Flu differs from the common cold in that symptoms are usually far worse. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose, while flu symptoms often come on quickly with sufferers experiencing a fever, a dry chesty cough, tiredness, the chills, joint pain or aching muscles.
Much of the time flu will make you feel too unwell to do anything. Other symptoms include diarrhoea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, a sore throat, a blocked or runny nose, sneezing, loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping.
If you have any of these symptoms it’s wise to stay home and avoid mixing with others until you feel better.
Ways to prevent flu and Covid-19
We’re all pros at this by now, but the best ways to prevent respiratory viruses this winter – whether flu, Covid or something else – is to avoid contact with those who are sick, wear face masks in crowded public places, keep social distancing (where possible) and maintain good hand hygiene – for example, washing your hands with soap and warm water before preparing and eating food, or after using public transport.