Protect against flu this winter

Free flu vaccinations are now available in the Thames Valley and people are urged to visit their GP, pharmacy or local health professional to get the vaccination early to help protect them from getting flu.

People aged over 65 years, those suffering from an underlying health condition, pregnant women, children aged between 2 and 4 years and carers are able to get the free flu vaccination this autumn.

Although flu symptoms can be mild and healthy people usually recover in two to seven days, for some flu can lead to hospitalisation and serious complications, and even death.

Pregnant women and their unborn babies could be particularly vulnerable to flu, the vaccination is safe, quick and effective. It will offer protection to mums and their babies in the first few months of life.

Paula Jackson, Consultant in Public Health – Screening & Immunisations, NHS England (Thames Valley), said: “I’d strongly urge everyone who’s eligible to get their flu vaccination as soon as possible. Don’t put it off; it’s free because you need it.

“If you are pregnant, it will protect you and your baby before and during its first few months of life. For children aged 2-4 years the nasal spray vaccination is a quick, painless and effective way to be protected from flu without the need for injections.

“It’s also vital that those who are eligible are vaccinated every year. The vaccine protects against different strains of flu as they vary each winter.”

The underlying conditions that make people of any age – including children – eligible for free vaccination include:

  • a heart problem
  • a long-term chest complaint or breathing difficulties, including severe asthma, chronic bronchitis or emphysema
  • kidney or liver disease
  • lowered immunity due to disease or treatment (such as steroid medication or cancer treatment)
  • a stroke or a transient ischaemic attack (TIA)
  • diabetes
  • a neurological condition, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s or a learning disability
  • a problem with their spleen, such as sickle cell disease, or if they have had their spleen removed

Last year, only 54% of eligible people with an underlying health condition in Thames Valley took up the offer of a free flu vaccination, while almost 75 per cent of 65 year olds chose to protect themselves against flu.

The vaccination can cause mild side-effects, your arm may feel sore where you were injected, and some people get a slight temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days afterwards. The vaccine does not give you flu, as it doesn’t contain the active virus.

If people have concerns they are asked to speak to their GP, pharmacy, midwife or practice nurse. For further information on flu visit NHS Choices:

Local case study: Ms Trish Mannes is 38 weeks pregnant and living in Wallingford, she works as a consultant in health protection.

Trish says, “I’ve long understood the serious implications of getting flu, particularly during pregnancy. I’m first in line when it comes to getting vaccinated against the flu virus because I want myself and my baby to be protected. Working as a public health consultant I’ve looked through all the information about flu and so I know how safe and effective the vaccination is. As a pregnant mum to be I do feel anxious and I understand other women that may be put off from having vaccinations during pregnancy, but it is actually the best thing you can do for you and your baby. Pregnant women are at greater risk of complications from flu and therefore it is especially important that they take up the offer of vaccination.

“I visited the flu clinic at the local hospital and combined getting my flu vaccination with another ante-natal appointment. It was convenient, quick and easy. I’d urge any pregnant women to either contact their GP or Midwife or visit their local pharmacy and make sure they are protected. The earlier you can get vaccinated the better protection you will have coming into flu season.”

Local GP:  Dr. David Edwards, GP at White House Surgery, Chipping Norton, said: “Flu can be a really nasty illness, particularly for little ones as they suffer the same symptoms as adults including fever, chills and aching muscles.  When children with other health conditions like heart disease or diabetes get flu it can even lead to hospitalisation for treatment. I would strongly encourage parents to bring in their 2, 3 and 4-year olds to get the new free flu nasal spray, which was introduced in England last year. It’s quick, easy, painless and effective, which is why it has been used in other countries for years.

“The nasal spray will help protect your child and will reduce the chances of the illness spreading to the family and the wider community. If a child gets flu it can be very difficult for parents to manage their care, as they have to take time off work to look after them. Encouragingly 40% of eligible children in England were vaccinated against flu last winter. This winter I expect to see even more children and their parents at the surgery who want to be protected.”

Local Hospital: Dr. Tony Berendt, Medical Director, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, Oxford, said: “At the Oxford University Hospitals we see many people who are at increased risk of harm if they catch flu, including pregnant women. The flu vaccine is an important part of defending those people against flu and we strongly encourage all of them to take advantage of the free vaccine offer. This includes all healthcare workers, who can help protect themselves and their patients from flu by getting their flu jab well before the flu season gets going. Pregnant mums-to-be can get their flu jab in our scanning clinics if they wish.”