With just two weeks until online bookings for COVID and flu vaccines close, the NHS is urging anyone still eligible for these vaccines to book an appointment and get potentially lifesaving protection ahead of Christmas.
The NHS online booking system, NHS App and 119 phone service will be closed for flu and COVID vaccine bookings from 15 December, making 14 December the last day to make a booking.
There are still hundreds of thousands of appointments available each week across England offering extra protection to those eligible who have not yet come forward.
This season saw the fastest ever start to the NHS flu vaccine rollout on record and more people than ever before – over 4.5 million people – have received their flu and COVID vaccines in the same appointment, for extra convenience.
As of 30 November, a total of 11,404,669 COVID and 16,190,661 flu vaccinations have been administered by the NHS in England since the beginning of the autumn campaign – including 61.5 percent of people ages 65 and over having received their COVID vaccination, but there are still thousands more people who can safeguard their health this winter.
A record number of sites continue to offer the vaccines this winter, making it as easy as possible for people to get vaccinated.
Vaccination is the best way for people to ensure they and their families are protected against flu and COVID this Christmas when the viruses spread more easily as people spend more time indoors. It takes about two weeks following vaccination to build up the maximum defences against the viruses, so it’s important to book in early.
It is crucial to get this protection, even if you have had a vaccine or been ill with flu or COVID before, as immunity fades over time and the viruses change each year.
Steve Russell, national director for vaccinations and screening for NHS England, said: “It only takes a few moments to book your flu and COVID vaccines online – with thousands of eligible people having already taken up the offer this year and record numbers booking via the NHS app – but with just two weeks to go until online bookings close, we’re urging those who haven’t yet come forward to do so.
“NHS staff continue to deliver vaccines at more sites than ever before, and we’ve seen record numbers choosing to have their flu and COVID vaccines at the same time, making it even easier for people.
“We’re getting closer to the festive period when lots of people will be coming together with their families and friends, and getting vaccinated is the best way to keep you and those around you from getting seriously ill during the colder months – so, if you haven’t yet taken up the offer – now is the time to do so, nobody wants to be unwell at Christmas”.
The 119 service, which provides booking support for those unable to access online services, will also close for bookings on 15 December, but it will continue answering queries until 22 December.
Over four million COVID-19 vaccination appointments have been booked on the NHS website, NHS App, or by calling 119, and now is the time to take advantage of these platforms, which are the easiest way to book until online bookings reopen next year.
It’s still possible to book your vaccinations after 15 December through local NHS vaccination services, like pharmacies or walk-in sites. However, there will be fewer COVID appointments, and you may need to travel further.
People can continue booking the COVID vaccine through local services until 31 January. After that, COVID vaccinations will close, and people will be required to wait for a future seasonal campaign unless they develop a new health condition or start treatment that severely weakens the immune system, in which case a clinician may advise vaccination sooner.
For those eligible for a free flu vaccine after 15 December, it will still be possible to book one by contacting their GP surgery or by finding a pharmacy that offers the NHS flu vaccination if you’re 18 or over.
The free flu vaccine offer will then close after 31 March. However, getting it as soon as possible is encouraged to ensure protection over the colder months when flu is often in greater circulation.
Parents should also ensure that eligible children are protected against the flu with the nasal spray vaccine, as they are at a higher risk of catching and spreading the virus. If caught, it can lead to serious problems like bronchitis and pneumonia.
The flu vaccine, usually given as a nasal spray, will be offered in schools until 15 December. Parents can call to book an appointment for their two or three-year-old (aged 2 or 3 on 31 August 2023) or their child with certain health conditions at their GP practice until 31 March.
The NHS has sent national invites via text, email, letter, and on the NHS app to eligible people over 18 since bookings opened in September to ensure no one misses out and is continuing to encourage those that are yet to come forward through the NHS marketing campaign with UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
If you are experiencing cold and flu symptoms on the day of your vaccinations, it’s advisable to rebook your appointment for when you are well.
Dr Jamie Lopez Bernal, Consultant Epidemiologist at UKHSA, said: “Getting vaccinated as soon as possible will help reduce your risk of getting seriously ill with flu or COVID-19 this festive season. So in amongst getting sorted for Christmas, make time to prioritise your health by getting vaccinated to ensure you stay Winter Strong and keep your plans on track.
“Aside from protecting yourself, ensure your children are vaccinated too against flu. Each winter thousands of children require treatment in hospital for flu or its complications. Many of these episodes can be prevented by a simple vaccine. As well as helping to keep your child healthy, the flu vaccine also helps stop the spread of flu in the family and wider community – helping to protect those who are more vulnerable and the elderly such as grandparent”.