People on the Isle of Wight who are eligible for the free flu vaccine and COVID-19 booster jab are being urged to book their appointments as soon as possible, to give themselves and loved ones the best possible protection this winter.
This year’s campaign is launched as new research released this month suggests adults in England are severely underestimating the combined threat of COVID-19 and flu, as the cold weather approaches.
A new film campaign has also launched, which people will see across television and social media channels, starring media medics Dr Amir Khan, Dr Dawn Harper and Dr Karan Ranj. The trio explain why it is more important than ever for people to get their winter vaccines as soon as possible this autumn, with the combination of both viruses having the potential to cause serious illness and hospitalisation.
A recent survey seeking views from 3,000 participants found that nearly one third (32%) were unaware that flu and COVID-19 can circulate at the same time, over a quarter (26%) did not know that flu can be fatal and over half (55%) underestimated the number of people who die from flu in an average year in England (which is approximately 11,000).
Even those deemed high risk for COVID-19 had low awareness of the possible dangers. Nearly a quarter of those over 50 (24%) and 29% of those with long term health conditions, (who are a priority group for the COVID-19 booster and an eligible group for the flu vaccine), were unaware that flu and COVID-19 could circulate at the same time. More than a third (37%) of pregnant women, who are an eligible group for a free flu vaccine, were also unaware that you can still catch flu if you’ve had the COVID-19 vaccine.
The research showed some misunderstanding of flu in particular, with around one in ten (9%) saying they thought the COVID-19 vaccination would protect them against flu. More than one in ten (13%) also believed with the statement that flu is ‘a disease of the past’, with a further one in five (20%) who did not know or were unsure that flu is spread by coughs, sneezes and can live on hands and surfaces - similar to COVID-19.
Dr Mattea Clarke, UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) South East flu lead, said:
“We’re encouraging all those eligible to have their flu vaccine to boost their immunity this winter. It’s important every year but even more so this year with COVID-19 still circulating.
“With far fewer restrictions in place, this is the first winter that we will face the reality of the double threat of flu and the ongoing pandemic, both of which can be deadly and when combined, even more so. This is a significant public health risk. The available vaccines offer us the best protection against both. We need to take this really seriously, especially with natural immunity to flu significantly diminished as the infection was supressed so successfully by social distancing and mask wearing last winter.
“If you’re eligible, please have your flu vaccine and your COVID-19 booster jab as soon as you are invited. It’s crucial we do everything we can to protect ourselves and all those around us and there is always the risk of the NHS being overwhelmed.”
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said:
“This year, it’s more important than ever to take up the offer of a flu jab and COVID-19 booster. Both illnesses are fully capable of taking a terrible toll on an older person but being vaccinated will help keep you, and those around you, safe and well through the winter months to come.
“We’re so lucky to live at a time and in a country that makes these potentially lifesaving protections available, please don’t spurn the opportunity to benefit from them when it arrives.”
Those eligible for a COVID-19 booster vaccine should book as soon as they are invited, with around 30 million people eligible for a COVID-19 booster vaccine.
Those eligible for a free flu vaccine should come forward to get it as soon as possible. Last year, the free flu vaccine was offered to 30 million people, this year the programme is being expanded again to the largest in history offering it to over 35 million people who are eligible.
To check your eligibility for the flu vaccine and COVID-19 booster vaccine or to find a service visit www.nhs.uk/wintervaccinations
Eligible people can book an appointment for their flu jab at either their GP practice or their local pharmacy. Those who are pregnant can ask for their free flu jab at their local maternity service.
The campaign is also supported by a coalition of leading charities and healthcare professional bodies, including The Royal College of General Practitioners, The Royal College of Midwives, Asthma UK, The British Lung Foundation and Royal Pharmaceutical Society.