The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) South West is calling on everyone who is eligible to book their flu and COVID-19 vaccinations ahead of Christmas and other upcoming celebrations.
This will help them get ‘winter strong’ and have safe and healthy celebrations. As the vaccines take up to two weeks to provide maximum protection, getting vaccinated soon will help reduce the risk of severe disease in time for upcoming celebrations.
So far this winter in the South West:
73.6% of over 65s
36.9% of those with long term health conditions
30.4% of pregnant women and
38.9% of 2- and 3-year-olds have already received their flu vaccine.
Flu and COVID-19 spread more when we spend more time indoors. If you are in one of the groups who is eligible for vaccination against flu and COVID-19 and are yet to take up the vaccines, ensure you get them as soon as possible. This will help your celebrations stay on track, whether that’s putting up decorations, attending work parties, feasting with friends, taking children to festive events, or attending worship or carol services.
Everyone aged 65 and over, pregnant women, and individuals with certain long-term health conditions like diabetes or cardiovascular disease, are eligible for free flu and COVID-19 vaccines. These vaccines offer the best defence against becoming severely unwell, hospitalisation and death from COVID-19 and flu.
Most children are eligible for the children’s flu vaccine. This includes pre-schoolers who were aged 2 or 3 years on 31 August 2023, school-aged children (Reception to Year 11) and children with certain health conditions. Each winter, thousands of children need to go to hospital for treatment (10,000 children were hospitalised with flu last season), including intensive care, with children under the age of 5 years having one of the highest rates of hospital admissions due to flu compared to other age groups. By getting vaccinated, your child not only protects themselves, but also those around them, including babies, grandparents, and people with weak immune systems.
Parents of school-aged children who haven’t yet been offered the vaccine at school are urged to ensure their children’s school vaccination consent forms are completed. They are being offered the free nasal spray flu vaccine, delivered in schools by immunisation teams up and down the country. If your child missed out on the vaccination session at school, ask the immunisation team about their catch-up sessions.
Pre-schoolers are eligible for the free nasal spray via their GP practice. And any child aged between 6 months and 2 years who has a health condition that puts them at increased risk from flu will be offered a flu vaccine injection instead of the nasal spray. This is because the nasal spray is not licensed for children under 2 years old. School-aged children who can’t have the nasal spray for medical or faith reasons will be offered an injected flu vaccine instead. These appointments can be booked via your GP.
Pregnancy changes how the body responds to infections like flu and COVID-19 and puts them, and their babies, at higher risk of complications requiring hospitalization than non-pregnant women. The flu and COVID-19 vaccines are the best defence we have against serious infections. Vaccinated women have a lower risk of severe disease requiring hospital treatment and it reduces the risk to their unborn child of stillbirth and prematurity.
Professor Dominic Mellon, Deputy Regional Director for UKHSA South West said: “The Christmas season is special to a lot of people as families and friends gather to celebrate. However, it also coincides with when respiratory virus activity typically rises. In amongst getting presents sorted and planning what’s on the festive menu, make time to prioritise your health by getting vaccinated to ensure you stay Winter Strong and keep your plans on track.
“In the South West, there’s still a lot of eligible people who have yet to get their winter vaccines, putting them at risk of complications and even hospitalisation from catching flu or COVID-19.
“As well as protecting yourself, ensure your children are vaccinated too against flu. Each winter thousands of children require treatment in hospital for flu or its complications. Many of these episodes can be prevented by a simple vaccine. On top of helping to keep your child healthy, the flu vaccine also helps stop the spread of flu in the family and wider community – helping to protect those who are more vulnerable and the elderly such as grandparents.”
Dr Matthew Dominey, Consultant in Public Health and Screening and Immunisation Lead for NHS England South West said: “Just like the weather, it can be difficult to predict what’s coming in the future, which is why it’s important to get protected now, while you still can. We know that both the COVID-19 and flu vaccines really increase people’s immunity and are highly effective at reducing the risk of severe infection and hospitalisations.
“To be ready for the festive season, I would really encourage anyone who qualifies and has not yet had their COVID-19 or flu vaccinations to book an appointment in the next couple of weeks and make the most of the offer available. The national booking system will stop taking bookings on 15 December so booking now is vital.”
To book Covid and flu vaccines, you can either download the NHS App, visit www.nhs.uk/book-covid or call 119 for free if you can’t get online.
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