Health bosses urge eligible groups to roll up (sleeves) for free flu vaccination

Pregnant women, elderly people, their carers, and people in Telford and Wrekin living with long-term health conditions are being urged to plan ahead for winter by rolling up their sleeves and getting a free flu vaccination.

Flu is an unpleasant but not particularly serious illness for the majority of the population, with most, otherwise healthy folk, finding themselves back on their feet within a week.

But for some people, the risk of complications from flu – for instance developing potentially life-threatening conditions like bronchitis or pneumonia – is very real, and the importance of being injected with a vaccine especially high.

Dr Mike Innes, Chair of Telford and Wrekin Clinical Commissioning Group, the organisation responsible for buying healthcare in the area, said: “No one likes getting flu and for most of us it will lay us low, but in the end, it won’t be that serious.

“But for a select group, the risks are real and it is vital that they take action to protect themselves by getting the yearly, injected vaccine the NHS provides free of charge.”

You are eligible to receive a free flu vaccination if you: 

  • Are 65 years of age or over (or will be 65 on March 31 2016),
  • Are pregnant, 
  • Have certain medical conditions,
  • Are very overweight - anyone with a body mass index (BMI) over 40,
  • Are living in a long-stay residential care home or other long-stay care facility,
  • Receive a carer's allowance, or you are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if you fall ill,
  • Are a healthcare worker with direct patient contact, or a social care worker.

“It is perfectly safe to get a free flu vaccination at any stage of pregnancy from conception onwards and the vaccine will not put you or your baby at any risk,” said Dr Innes.

“We would advise anyone who is pregnant to have the injectable flu vaccination, regardless of the stage of pregnancy they have reached. That's because there's strong evidence pregnant women are at an increased risk of developing complications from flu.

He added: “The vaccination will reduce the chance of contracting conditions like pneumonia, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy, reduce the risk of miscarriage, or of your baby being born prematurely or with a low birth weight because of the flu, and also protect your baby, offering them some immunity to flu in the first few months of their life.”

The vaccination is also free to people living with serious long-term conditions, including:

  • Chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma (which requires an inhaled or tablet steroid treatment, or has led to hospital admission in the past), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or bronchitis,
  • Chronic heart disease, such as heart failure,
  • Chronic kidney disease,
  • Chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis,
  • Chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson's disease or motor neurone disease 
  • Diabetes,
  • Problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed,
  • A weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medication such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy.

“Of course that isn’t a definitive list and your GP or local pharmacist will be happy to talk to you and assess whether any underlying health condition you have might put you at an increased risk of developing complications from flu.

“In situations where that is the case, the vaccine will almost always be offered.” said Dr Innes.

The free vaccine is also available for any children over the age of six months with a long-term health condition, healthy children aged between two and four, and children in school years one and two.

It is offered as an injection to eligible children between six months and two years of age and as a nasal spray for eligible children between two and 18.

Front-line health and social care workers are also eligible for a free jab because of the increased risk of infection within the environment in which they work and in order to protect staff, their colleagues and other members of the community.

Dr Innes said: “Employers of health and social care workers have a duty to arrange and pay for vaccinations for their staff.

"At the same time, if you are a carer for someone who is elderly or disabled it might be a good idea to speak to your pharmacist or GP and arrange to get your own vaccination alongside the person you care for.”

If you are included on the list of ‘at risk’ people, you can arrange your free flu vaccination, by talking to your GP or your pharmacy at the first available opportunity.

If you are unsure whether you qualify but would like to find out more your pharmacist or GP will be happy to advise you.