Have you had your winter vaccine? (No, not that one)

·4 min read

Watch: Flu jab 'could help avoid severe COVID-19 side effects'

As the vaccination programme for COVID-19 expands into the possibility of winter boosters, there's another jab we should all be considering. 

Flu vaccinations can keep you healthy this winter, and they can also protect the NHS from a huge surge in demand, just as the population heads back to work and education without mandatory distancing measures. 

While there may be another COVID wave, however, flu vaccinations can protect against another potentially deadly virus - whilst also offering protection against some of COVID's worst outcomes.

According to one study by the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Covid patients already vaccinated against the flu were up to 58% less likely to have a stroke than the unvaccinated. 

Around 20% of people catch flu each year, and it leads to between 10,000 and 25,000 deaths annually.

A pre-COVID study of yearly flu deaths in the UK discovered that of 5.5 million medical consultations a year related to acute respiratory illness, around 600,000 are flu related.

Senior woman looking at camera pointing at her arm with a bandage after getting the covid-19 vaccine at home. Female feeling proud after getting coronavirus vaccine at home.
Over 50s can get the flu vaccine this year. (Getty Images)

"Some people are more susceptible to the effects of flu," warns the government's website. "For them, it can increase the risk of developing more serious illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia, or can make existing conditions worse. 

"In the worst cases, flu can result in a stay in hospital, or even death."

Read more: Flu vaccine delivery delays ‘of concern’ to GPs

That's why those who are eligible for the flu vaccine should have it, GPs say - particularly this year. These groups now include anyone aged 50 or over, anyone living in a residential or nursing home, those who are the primary carer of an older or disabled person, anyone who is a frontline health or social care worker, pregnant women and children aged 2 or 3, all primary school-aged children, all year 7 to year 11 secondary school-aged children and children with a health condition that puts them at greater risk from flu.

Mass flu vaccination could go far to ease pressure on hospitals and GP surgeries, many of which are still struggling with a lockdown backlog. It will also protect against illness and certain COVID symptoms, but new research from advice and booking app myGP shows that one in five still don't know whether they are eligible and two in five are unsure how to book a jab.

Doctor vaccinating pregnant woman against Covid-19 in clinic
Pregnant women should have the flu jab, say GPs. (Getty Images)

This puts a potential 7 million eligible patients at risk of missing their free vaccination - even though flu is likely to be back with a vengeance this winter.

 The Royal College of General Practitioners noted flu cases were 95% lower than usual in the previous season, which has resulted in reduced population immunity, with more people now vulnerable to infection in winter 2021/22. 

Rising flu cases are not the only factor that may contribute to the NHS becoming overwhelmed later this year as, according to myGP’s study, 2 in 5 people surveyed plan to call their GP receptions for guidance on how to book a flu vaccine – a major concern, as receptionists manage already overstretched services.

Read more: Why COVID-19 surge makes getting your flu shot more important than ever

Dr Yasmin Razak, GP Partner at Golborne Medical and Medical Advisor to myGP, commented: 

"Recent concerns in the press around the flu jab’s effectiveness simply highlight the importance of getting the vaccine. Eligibility in 2021 encompasses a much wider group than that of 2019. In fact, the flu jab target for this winter is almost double that of last year."

A portrait of a pharmacist standing next some medical supplies in her pharmacy store in the city.
High Street pharmacists can administer the flu jab, and you should be able to book online. (AP)

Tobias Alpsten, CEO at myGP, added: "We have supported the NHS over the last 14 years in managing their annual flu vaccination programmes. GP practices can use our SMS communications to share information while patients can book their vaccination through our app."

With COVID and flu sharing similar symptoms of aches, cough and lightheadedness, and flu complications including pneumonia and sepsis, it's well worth getting vaccinated. Everyone eligible should be able to get the jab at their local pharmacy, or book via the app. 

Watch: How important is it to get the flu vaccine this year?

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