The change of seasons is often welcome, with autumn bringing forth crisp mornings and crunchy leaves underfoot.
But in this pandemic year it also brings a sense of trepidation.
Covid-19 cases are rising, and a second wave is expected as the weather turns for the worse.
However, another highly infectious, acute viral respiratory infection will also emerge as the days grow shorter – seasonal influenza, otherwise known as the flu.
It spreads in the same way as Covid-19: through coughs and sneezes which release droplets (aerosols) into the air and by touching surfaces contaminated with these droplets and then touching your face.
Social distancing, hand-washing and the wearing of face masks will help control cases of Covid-19, flu and other infectious illnesses.
But we also have another way to protect our-selves from flu and that is vaccination.
While the media’s focus remains on the deaths and severe illness caused by the coronavirus, we must not forget the tragic consequences of flu.
The World Health Organization estimates that between 300,000 and 600,000 people die across the world
from flu and its complications annually. Millions more are hospitalised, many of them end up in intensive care.
Those most at risk from severe complications, which include pneumonia, are those with long-termconditions including chronic respiratory disease, heart disease, diabetes and a weakened immune system due to disease or treatment for cancer.
The morbidly obese are also classed as high risk.
Other groups are also recommended for the vaccine and are therefore also eligible to have it for free on the NHS. They include:
- All children aged two to 11 on August 31st, 2020
- People aged 65 years and older
- Pregnant women
- Care staff working in a registered residential or nursing home.
And for the 2020-21 flu season, the vaccination programme has been extended with more groups now eligible for the free flu vaccine. These include household contacts of those on the shielded patient list.
(Subject to vaccine availability, flu vaccination will also be offered to those between 50 and 64 years later in the season, following prioritisation of other eligible groups.)
Everyone in the above eligible groups can have the flu vaccination for free on the NHS.
All but school pupils aged four to 11 and care home workers can get the vaccination from their GP and their local pharmacy. Contact your local practice or pharmacy as soon as possible.
Those who work in care and residential homes can get the vaccination free from pharmacies.
Primary pupils will be vaccinated in school.
In this pandemic year, the advice is not to delay and to get the vaccination early if possible.
GP practices are having to take extra precautions to ensure staff and patients are kept safe, so they will be delivering the flu vaccination in a different way this year.
Many surgeries will be offering the vaccination by appointment only, so they can control numbers and ensure social distancing is adhered to.
Some will also be using different venues such as community centres and church halls as the larger spaces make social distancing easier.
All will require patients to wear face coverings and to sanitize their hands-on arrival.
Contact your local practice to check the arrange-ments in your area.
Children aged four to 10 will receive the nasal spray flu vaccination in school.
Pupils will be sent home with consent forms for parents and carers to sign before the scheduled vaccination date.
How does the vaccination work?
The flu virus is constantly changing so new flu vaccines which best match the emerging strains must be developed and given annually.
Over 18s receive the injectable flu vaccination. It is an inactivated vaccination so does not contain any live virus and cannot therefore give you the flu.
It contains dead parts of flu virus strains, which is enough to prompt a response from your immune system, which will then recognise and protect you against the wild virus should you be infected.
Children are given the live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) Fluenz Tetra, which is administered via a nasal spray.
It is a live vaccine, but the viruses are weakened and adapted to cold, so it cannot replicate efficiently in the body and cause flu. However, it is enough to prompt an immune response.
Will the vaccination make me unwell?
The flu vaccination cannot give you the flu.
But it is common for those who have had the flu vaccination to feel mildly unwell – shivery, achy and tired. Some may have a mild fever. All of these symptoms usually resolve within 48 hours. But if individuals, parents or carers are concerned they should seek advice from their GP or ring 111.
Isolation is not required unless Covid-19 is suspected. The main symptoms of Covid are:
- a new continuous cough
- a high temperature
- loss of or change to sense of smell or taste.