Who can get a free flu shot this winter?

By Smitha Mundasad
Health reporter

image source, Getty Images

Health officials are urging people to get a flu shot this winter amid fears the UK could face a big and early wave.

Many nations in the southern hemisphere experienced their worst flu season in years, with people much more confused after the end of Covid restrictions.

Having the vaccine will prevent many people from becoming seriously ill, and will ease the pressure on the health service.

Who will get the free flu shot?

In England, flu vaccination is offered free of charge to primary health or social care workers who:

  • They are over 50 years old
  • they have some health conditions
  • they are pregnant
  • they are in long-term residential care
  • they are the primary caregivers of the elderly or disabled

A nasal spray form of the vaccine is offered, which is more suitable for children:

  • 2 and 3 year old children
  • All primary school children
  • Secondary school children in grades 7, 8 and 9
  • Children aged 6 months to 17 years with long-term health conditions

The oldest, youngest and most vulnerable will be offered a jab first before other groups because they are at greater risk of complications.

If there is sufficient supply, a dose will also be offered to Year 10 and 11 students.

Healthy people aged 50-64 will not be offered jabri before mid-October.

People are asked to wait until they receive an invitation before proceeding.

For most people, the flu vaccine will be offered through doctors, midwives and schools. Patients can also book an appointment at a pharmacy.

Around 26 million people in the UK are also offering a boost against Covid. At the same time they can offer flu and covid vaccinations.

What about free flu holders in the rest of the UK?

Health authorities in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales offer jabs to similar groups of people, with some variations.

image source, Getty Images
image caption,

Children are given the flu shot as a nasal spray

Can I afford a flu jab?

Anyone can pay for a private flu shot from pharmacies or some supermarkets, costing around £15.

However, officials say vaccine supplies will be prioritized for those most at risk.

The best time to get the flu is from the end of September to the end of November, as the flu season is in January or February, but it’s still worth it later.

How bad is the flu and how long does it last?

For many, the flu usually lasts about two weeks and clears up on its own.

However, it can be very serious, especially for older adults, very young children, and people with underlying health conditions.

Pregnant women are advised to get the flu vaccine as soon as it is available, regardless of the stage of pregnancy.

Annual flu deaths vary from year to year, depending on the strain and other factors.

image source, Getty Images
image caption,

More than 24,000 people died in England from flu and pneumonia in 2019

Symptoms – is it flu or covid?

It can be difficult to tell if you have the flu or Covid because the symptoms can be similar, including:

Some people also experience muscle aches, headache, sore throat or diarrhea and vomiting with the flu.

But these symptoms can also be caused by other common winter viruses.

Flu and Covid can spread before people have symptoms.

image source, Getty Images
image caption,

Social distancing slowed the spread of the flu last winter, which weakened people’s immunity

Can I get covid and flu at the same time?

Yes, in that case, you are likely to get seriously ill.

Research shows that those infected with both viruses are more than twice as likely to die as someone with only Covid.

What are the side effects of the flu shot?

Most are mild and last only a day or two. With a slightly elevated temperature, they may have muscle pain and arm pain.

Allergic reactions are rare, but you should avoid the vaccine if you’ve had a bad reaction to a flu shot.

People with egg allergies should ask their pharmacist or doctor for an egg-less or egg-free vaccine.

It is best to avoid the vaccine if you are sick with a high temperature, and rebook it when you are fully recovered.

Why is the flu different for adults over 65?

There are several types of flu vaccines.

Children are generally given a nasal spray. Adults are offered injections.

For adults over 65, the most common vaccine contains an additional component that causes a stronger immune system response.

If you’re getting a vaccine on the NHS, experts say you’ll be offered the one that’s most effective for you, partly depending on your age and the supply available.

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