Flu and COVID-19: staying well with a health condition this winter

Under 65s with long term health conditions, urged to get their flu and Covid-19 booster vaccines 

The onset of winter brings colder weather and darker nights, which will inevitably mean we all meet friends and family indoors where it is less well ventilated. This will increase the risk of virus transmission at a time when people up and down the country are likely to have a lower immunity to flu due to lower levels in circulation last winter.

There are a number of things everyone can do to stop the spread of flu or COVID-19 viruses in the coming months. Being vaccinated is the first thing – it not only helps protect you, it also protects your loved ones.

In 2020/21 over half (56.5%) of people under 65 with a long-term health condition received a flu vaccination in the South East.

So far this year, almost a quarter of people (23.2%) under 65 with a health condition in the region have already had the flu vaccine.

The flu vaccine is more important than ever; the prevalence of flu might be higher than usual, and that makes it a significant public health concern.  Getting vaccinated is an important part of looking after yourself and staying well.  

Dr Vaughan Lewis, Regional Medical Director, said: “The flu vaccine is the best form of defence against the flu virus, so please book an appointment with your local GP practice or pharmacy.

“I also encourage anyone who is yet to receive a first or second COVID-19 vaccine to step forward, and anyone contacted for a booster dose to attend their appointment to build their protection as we head into winter.

“Flu and COVID-19 can affect anyone, but if you have a long-term health condition, the effects can make it worse even if the condition is well managed and you normally feel well.”

People with long term health conditions are at increased 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.

Sabahat Hassan has asthma, she said: “My asthma is generally well controlled but catching the flu can change that, leaving me breathless and wheezy for weeks after the flu has gone. I get my jab every year to protect myself from the serious side effects of flu.”

Living with a heart condition and diabetes Dr Rafiq Turk is more at risk of serious problems if he got flu. He said: “I always get the flu jab. This year it’s even more important as we are back to socialising and seeing friends and family again. I want to stay well and getting vaccinated against flu will help that.”

You should have the free flu vaccine if you have a long-term health condition such as:

  • a heart problem
  • a chest complaint or serious breathing difficulties, including bronchitis, emphysema or some people with asthma
  • a kidney disease
  • lowered immunity due to disease or treatment (such as steroid medication or cancer treatment)
  • liver disease
  • had a stroke or a transient ischaemic attack (TIA)
  • diabetes
  • a neurological condition, such as multiple sclerosis (MS) or cerebral palsy
  • a learning disability
  • a problem with your spleen, such as sickle cell disease, or you have had your spleen removed
  • you are seriously overweight (BMI of 40 and above)

This list of conditions isn’t definitive. It’s always an issue of clinical judgement. Your GP can assess you to take into account the risk of flu making any underlying illness you may have worse, as well as your risk of serious illness from flu itself.

There are several types of flu vaccine. You will be offered one that is most effective for you, depending upon your age. The injection does not contain gelatine derived from pigs (porcine gelatine).

To check your eligibility for the flu vaccine and COVID-19 booster vaccine or to find a service visit nhs.uk/wintervaccinations

Visit www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/keep-warm-keep-well/ for more advice on staying well in winter.

 Discover more information about the flu vaccine and the Covid-19 booster.

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