As the seasons change and with children back at school, we all tend to catch more coughs and colds. But this Autumn is different – after 18 months of limited socialising and exposure to bugs, the nation’s immune system is at an all-time low.
Scientists are warning of a particularly bad flu season while Covid cases surge. However, there are things we can all do to limit the spread of both viruses, keep ourselves safe, and protect our friends and families. From letting fresh air indoors to Covid booster jabs, here are actions we can all take to reduce the risks from Covid and flu.
30 million Covid booster jabs to be offered this winter
Covid is set to spike again this winter and vaccines remain our best line of defence. That’s why the NHS is inviting people over 50, clinically vulnerable people and frontline health and social care workers to top-up their immunity by getting the Covid booster jab. People aged 16 to 49 with underlying health conditions and anyone living with someone with an immune disorder should also get the booster jab.
Covid vaccines have been vital to us regaining some normality in our daily lives. So far, 9 out of 10 adults have had at least one Covid jab, resulting in 24 million fewer infections and over 130,000 lives saved in England alone. To be eligible for a Covid booster you need to have received your second dose at least six months ago. If you are eligible, you should receive a letter or text letting you know when it’s your turn.
Who should get a flu jab?
The NHS will offer 35 million flu vaccines this Autumn – five million more than usual. To stave off a serious wave of the flu, many people will need to get the flu jab for the first time this Autumn.
Sadly, around 11,000 people die from the flu in England in an average year. However, experts are warning that this year the number of deaths could shoot up to 60,000. Despite this, the seriousness of flu is often underestimated. According to a survey of 300 South Asians in England, 41% of respondents view it as just a bad cold and a quarter (26%) don’t even know you can die from it.
Those most at risk from Covid are also most at risk of getting seriously sick with the influenza virus. People who need both the flu and Covid boosters include over 50s, those at risk or with long-term health conditions, and health and social care workers.
Pregnant women and children and teenagers aged 2 to 16 only need to get the flu vaccine. Eligible people should book an appointment for their flu jab at either their GP practice or their local pharmacy as soon as possible. Expectant mothers can ask for their free flu jab at their local maternity service.
Covid and flu vaccine for children and teenagers
Although Covid doesn’t usually affect the very young as badly, offering children Covid jabs will reduce the number currently missing out on school after testing positive. Vaccinating children and teenagers against Covid and flu also minimises the spread of both viruses among vulnerable groups like older people and babies (in the case of the flu). Flu can also lead to serious problems in children, including bronchitis and pneumonia.
Children aged 2 to 11 and those aged 2 to 17 years with long-term health conditions will receive a nasal spray of the flu vaccine free on the NHS. The spray may contain pork products and a pork-free option is available on request.
12–17-year-olds will also be offered a single dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine. The UK is not alone in doing this, several countries have already immunised millions of children with the same vaccines, so there’s plenty of real-world data, as well as trial data to support their safety and effectiveness.
Children will only be vaccinated with parental consent and many Covid jabs will be administered in school as with other vaccines like tetanus.
Other preventative measures for avoiding Covid and the flu
- When someone with Covid coughs, sings or even breathes, they send out tiny particles containing the virus that hang around in the air like smoke. Studies show that allowing fresh air into a room, even for just 10 minutes at a time throughout the day disperses these particles, reducing Covid transmission rates by up to 70%
- Wear a facemask in busy or enclosed spaces to reduce your chance of catching Covid
- Get tested regularly and isolate at home if you test positive
Find out how to book your flu vaccine and if you’re eligible for the Covid booster at nhs.uk/wintervaccinations