There’s no escaping the changing seasons and as sure as sun follows rain, the winter seasons bring a fresh bout of flu cases across the country. It’s time to get a flu jab.
The flu all but took the year off for 2020, as most of us stayed at home or took extra preventative measures when going out, such as wearing a mask and washing our hands more often.
This means getting a flu jab this year is even more important, as immunity and strain types are less certain, according to Jenny Harries, who was deputy chief medical officer for England throughout much of the pandemic before she became chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency.
She recently told Sky News of the dangers posed by Covid and flu circulating at the same time, saying that people are “twice as likely to die from having two together than just having Covid alone”.
“We should be worried about flu each winter,” she said. “I think people still don’t realise it can be a fatal disease. Recent studies suggest that about 25 per cent of us don’t actually understand that. On average, over the last five years, about 11,000 people have died with flu-related conditions.
“But I think the important thing about this winter is, we are likely to see flu, for the first time in any real numbers, co-circulating with Covid.”
Thankfully, free flu jabs are available this year as part of what the government is calling the “biggest flu programme in history”. Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced a programme in July to offer free flu vaccinations to more than 35 million people.
This is what you need to know.
When is the 2021 flu jab?
Every year the government makes free flu jabs available on the NHS for specific groups of people. The programme for winter 21/22 started in September and will run until March.
Announcing the plan for the year, Javid said: “Flu can be a serious illness and we want to build a wall of protection by immunising a record number of people.
“With the nation getting closer to normal life, we must learn to live with Covid-19 alongside other viruses and we’re offering the free flu jab to millions more people to help keep them safe this winter.
“The phenomenal scale of the Covid-19 vaccination programme is a clear demonstration of the positive impact vaccination can make and I encourage all those eligible to get their flu jab when called forward.”
Who can get a free flu jab?
The free flu programme is designed to protect people who are particularly at risk of contracting, spreading or falling seriously ill from the influenza virus.
This includes children and older people, as well as carers and individuals who are immuno-compromised.
Here’s the full list of people who can get it for free in England:
All children aged 2 and 3 on 31 August 2021
All children in primary school and all children in school years 7 to 11 in secondary school
Those aged 6 months to under 50 years in clinical risk groups
Those aged 50 years and over
Close contacts of immunocompromised individuals
Frontline health and adult social care staff
How do you get a free flu vaccination?
The free flu jab programme is available on the NHS, so people who are eligible can get it from their local GP or pharmacy, their midwifery service if they’re pregnant, or through a hospital appointment if necessary.
Most children will get their flu jab at school and many supermarkets now have pharmacies which offer the jab as well.
Some of the big chains offering free flu jabs by appointment you can book online, including:
If you’re not in one of the groups who can get a flu jab for free on the NHS, you can still make sure you’re protected.
This could be especially important this year as Covid and the influenza virus circulate among the general population.
How much does a flu vaccination cost?
A private flu jab often costs around £15, although Tesco is currently offering a private service at their pharmacies for just £9.
In the same way as the NHS jab, you can book your appointment online or in person to make sure you’re protected for the months ahead.
Are there any risks with a flu jab?
Flu vaccines are very safe and there are only a small number of side effects for the overwhelming majority of people. Some side effects include a slightly raised temperature, muscle aches or a sore arm at the site of the injection.
In very rare cases someone might have a serious allergic reaction to the flu vaccine, called anaphylaxis. This is a similar reaction some people have to foods or insect stings they are allergic to, although being allergic to a food or sting doesn’t mean you will be allergic to the vaccine.
If allergic, the reaction will occur within minutes and the person giving the vaccine will be trained to treat it immediately.
Can I have both the flu jab and the Covid vaccine booster?
Getting both the flu jab and the Covid vaccine booster is not just safe, it’s recommended.
The Covid booster is free from the NHS and will be available six months after people have their second dose.
The NHS will get in touch to arrange the appointment and it will be carried out at a vaccination centre, GP, pharmacy or local NHS service.