This winter, both COVID-19 and the flu could run high, potentially at the same time.
Ahead of what could be a tough season, millions of people are being vaccinated to help protect them in the coming months.
There is evidence that if you get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, your risk of getting seriously ill is higher. Since this is the first winter since Covid-19 emerged without restrictions, the best way to protect yourself from getting sick from either is to get vaccinated.
We urge all eligible people to get vaccinated as soon as possible to increase their protection against these viruses, which also helps to protect others and the NHS.
Why do we get vaccinated for the flu every year?
Every year, the flu season is different. Different strains of flu circulate and the number of people who get the flu varies. This means we need a slightly different vaccine each year.
To design vaccines for each new season, scientists look at the success of previous years’ vaccines, data from previous flu seasons, and surveillance around the world to see which strains are making people sick.
All this information is used to decide which strains will go into the next vaccine, giving the best chance of a high level of protection.
The flu is unpleasant for most people, but it can have serious consequences for some, especially those with certain health conditions. It can cause serious illness and in some cases be fatal.
In 2021/22 people aged 65 and over had a record number of flu jabs (82%), although flu jabs were lower among clinical risk groups and pregnant women, and these groups are particularly encouraged to come forward this year.
Why is flu vaccination especially important this winter?
More people are expected to get sick with the flu this year because less natural immunity has built up over the past few winters when the flu was stopped from spreading widely due to the COVID-19 measures.
Also Southern Hemisphere countries such as Australia had their winter season earlier than usual with the flu.
Young children in particular are less likely to develop natural immunity to the flu, so it’s important to get them vaccinated this year. It is given in the form of a quick and painless nasal spray for children.
In addition to the predicted flu wave, we have early indications that COVID-19 rates are beginning to rise ahead of winter, increasing the threat to human health in a so-called ‘twindemic’ scenario.
Who is eligible for the flu vaccine?
Annual flu vaccine is given:
- People with long-term health conditions
- Those aged 50 and over (starting mid-October)*
- pregnant woman
- Those in long-term residential homes
- Unpaid carers (receiving a carer’s allowance or being the main carer for an elderly or disabled person who may be at risk if the carer is ill)
- Close acquaintances of immunosuppressed persons
- Frontline health and social care workers who cannot receive vaccines through an occupational health scheme at work
- All children aged 2 or 3 years on 31 August 2022
- All primary school aged children and some secondary school aged children
*If you’re in this age group and have a long-term health condition that puts you at risk for the flu, you don’t have to wait until mid-October.
There are different types of flu vaccines. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) annually reviews the latest evidence on influenza vaccines and recommends the type of vaccine given to patients.
Recommended vaccines vary by age. You will be given an offer that works best for you. Children ages 2 to 17 are given a quick and painless nasal spray vaccine.
Why do some people need a booster against COVID-19?
The COVID-19 vaccine is increasingly offered based on evidence that while vaccines are highly effective, immunity wanes over time.
Booster doses significantly increase immunity, and in those most vulnerable to the worst effects of COVID-19, receiving a booster will reduce the number of people who are hospitalized or die.
We are all aware that COVID-19 can cause serious illness and is more dangerous for certain groups, such as the elderly and those with suppressed immune systems.
Since cases usually increase throughout the winter months, it is really important that those who are eligible get their immunity levels up.
Who is eligible for the COVID-19 booster?
Boosters are being offered:
- People age 5 and older with long-term health conditions
- Those aged 50 and over
- pregnant woman
- Those in long-term residential care homes
- Unpaid caregivers
- Close contacts of immunosuppressed persons
- Frontline health and social care professionals
If you are in one of these groups, you should be offered an appointment between September and December.
Those with the highest risk will be called first. It must be at least three months after your last dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccines offered offer a very high level of protection against the virus and greatly reduce the chance of a person becoming seriously ill and requiring hospitalization.
Most people will receive the next-generation combination version of the booster vaccine, which contains half the dose of the previous vaccine and half the dose against the micron variant.
For a very small number of people, another vaccine may be recommended by their doctor.
How do I get vaccinated?
Some people who are eligible for both will be offered their flu and COVID-19 vaccines at one appointment, but most people will get them separately.
People who are eligible for the flu vaccine can book an appointment with their GP or at a pharmacy that offers the vaccine on the NHS. You may receive an invitation to get the vaccine but you don’t have to wait for it to book your appointment. If you are pregnant you may be able to get the vaccine from some maternity services or your GP.
Children eligible for the flu vaccine will receive the nasal spray. Eligible people who have not yet started primary school will receive the vaccine at their GP practice. For children in primary school, a consent form signed and returned by parents will be vaccinated at school.
The National Booking Service for COVID-19 Vaccination is now open for autumn boosters. People over 65, those who are immunosuppressed, those who are pregnant and frontline health and social care workers are now able to book an appointment.
Everyone eligible for the free flu vaccine will be able to get it.
GP surgeries and pharmacies receive flu vaccine in batches throughout the flu season. If you can’t get an appointment straight away, ask if you can book one when more vaccinations are available.
Visit nhs.uk/wintervaccinations for more information on who is eligible and how to book.