Beat flu in Wales this winter
We've teamed up with Nicola, a nurse in Public Health Wales who works on the Beat Flu campaign, to bring you this blog about who is eligible for a free NHS flu vaccine in Wales, and why getting your flu vaccination this winter is more important than ever.
This blog contains links and information regarding the flu programme in Wales and there may be differences across the other nations.
Flu is a respiratory virus and it can be a very serious illness, especially for people with lung problems. It can cause complications such as pneumonia and is very infectious.
We don’t know how serious this year’s flu season will be, but we are expecting flu and COVID-19 to both be circulating, that’s why protecting yourself from flu with your yearly vaccine is so important.
Having a flu vaccine is one of the best ways to protect yourself against flu. Every year in the UK, millions of people get their flu vaccine, and this year the NHS is running their biggest ever flu campaign to help protect as many people as possible from catching and spreading flu.
Flu is more likely to be serious:
- for younger children
- if you’re pregnant
- if you’re 65 or older, or
- if you have a long-term health condition, including lung conditions like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchiectasis and pulmonary fibrosis
Flu vaccines help protect against spreading flu, so as well as being recommended for people in these at risk groups it is also recommended for all care home residents. In addition, it is important for their carers and health and social care workers - this includes care home staff with regular client contact and domiciliary carers.
This year, the flu vaccine is also recommended for people who live with someone on the NHS shielded patient list.
Why is it important to have a flu vaccine each year?
Flu viruses are constantly changing. Each year the vaccine is changed to match the flu viruses likely to be circulating. Having a flu vaccine is one of the best ways to protect against catching and spreading flu. The flu vaccine for adults does not contain any live virus so it is impossible to catch flu from the vaccine.
There are different types of flu vaccine available. Some work better in different age groups. For the best protection, it is important to have a flu vaccine recommended for your age. Your health care professional will be able to tell you which flu vaccine is best for you.
It’s best to have your vaccine before the flu virus starts to circulate. Some people are reporting having to wait for their flu vaccine this year, that may be due to a number of reasons, including staggered vaccine supply and appointments taking longer due to the changes needed to be sure of safe practice in vaccination clinics during the pandemic. Flu doesn’t usually start to circulate before mid-December. You can have a flu vaccine later in the flu season but having it before flu circulates is best.
Flu vaccines do not protect against colds and other flu-like illnesses or respiratory viruses. If you are in a risk group, you should have a flu vaccination every year. Flu vaccines are quick and safe, could prevent weeks of serious illness and keep you out of hospital.
Find out more about who should have the flu vaccine today.
I have a long-term lung condition. Why do I need a flu vaccine?
If you have a long-term lung condition such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or moderate to severe asthma, you are more likely to get serious complications if you catch flu.
If you are in a risk group, you should have a flu vaccine even if you feel healthy. It's important you’re protected.
Children from six months of age with a health condition such as chest problems or breathing difficulties may be vulnerable to flu and its complications. Talk to your doctor or nurse if are not sure if your child is eligible.
The vaccine is free on the NHS for people in high risk groups, this includes people with long term lung conditions including moderate to severe asthma, COPD and pulmonary fibrosis.
Is there anyone who shouldn’t have a flu vaccine?
Very few people cannot have a flu vaccine.
If you’ve ever had a serious allergic reaction to a flu vaccine (or any part of it), you shouldn’t have that vaccine again. If you’re not sure if this applies to you - check it out with your nurse, doctor or community pharmacist. They will be able to advise you.
You should tell the person giving you the vaccine if you have a serious egg allergy before having your vaccine. You can still have a flu vaccine, but special arrangements may be needed.
If you’re unwell with a high temperature, delay having the vaccine until you feel better.
No flu vaccine is licensed for babies under six months.
How will getting the flu vaccine be different this year (2020/21)?
How you get the flu vaccine this year may be different to how you’ve experienced getting your flu vaccine in the past.
People should not attend their vaccination appointment if they:
- have a fever or symptoms of COVID-19 infection
- have been notified that they are a contact of a case and told to self-isolate
- have returned within last 14 days from a country that is on the quarantine list
- are awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test
When attending a health care setting, social distancing must be observed wherever possible in waiting rooms.
Health care settings such as general practices and community pharmacies have made adjustments to make sure it is safe to attend for a flu vaccine. Staff administering vaccinations/injections must apply hand hygiene between patients and wear a facemask. In vaccination/injection clinics, gloves and aprons are not generally necessary, but if cough, sneeze or spray is anticipated, the immuniser may decide it is appropriate to wear eye protection.
The above advice is unchanged where there is a local increase in COVID-19 cases or local ‘lockdown’.
More detailed infection prevention and control advice and guidance may be found here:
Will I get any side effects from a flu vaccine?
After having a flu vaccine, you might experience some side effects. These can include:
- a slight temperature
- feeling tired
- aching muscles for a day or 2
Any vaccine may cause a mild fever (normally less than 38°C) which usually resolves within 24-48 hours for most vaccines. As post vaccination fever is a common and expected reaction, isolation and COVID-19 testing is not usually required unless other symptoms mean COVID-19 is suspected. Coronavirus symptoms include a high fever, a new continuous cough and a loss of taste or smell, although children do not always present with commonly reported symptoms.
Any fever after vaccination should be monitored, and if you are concerned about your health, or your child’s health after receiving a vaccine, you should seek advice by phoning NHS Direct Wales on 111 or your GP.
After an injection, your arm may be a bit red and sore. The nasal spray may cause a runny or blocked nose. Other side effects are very rare.
Flu vaccines are very safe. They will not give you flu.
I want to get the flu vaccine. What should I do now?
If you are an adult in a risk group, are pregnant, if you are aged 65 or over or if you live with someone who is on the NHS shielded patient list, you will be able to get your flu vaccine for free at your GP surgery or at some community pharmacies. If you’re not sure if you’re eligible for a free flu vaccine, talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.
Children aged two or three (on 31 August 2020) will generally get their vaccine at their GP surgery, although in some areas 3 year olds may get it at their nursery school.
Children in primary school (from reception up to year six) will generally have their flu vaccine in school. If your child is in a risk group, over six months old and not in primary school they can get their flu vaccine at their GP surgery.
Find out more about who should get a flu vaccine and if you're eligible for a free flu vaccine today.
If you're not able to get the vaccine for free, you may be able to get it at your local pharmacy for a small cost.
What should I do if I catch the flu?
Some of the symptoms of flu are similar to symptoms of COVID-19. If you think there is a chance you may have COVID-19 it is important to follow the up-to-date COVID-19 guidance.
Most people with flu do not need to visit their GP.
If you’re in a risk group and think you have flu, you should talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist as soon as you can. There are medicines called antivirals that you can be given, but these can only help if you take them within two days of the start of the illness.
Developed symptoms of COVID-19?
If you suspect you have COVID symptoms, you will need to self-isolate. Do not leave home. Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. This helps stop the virus spreading to other people.
Use the 111 online coronavirus service if you’re not sure what to do, or if you are shielding. Call 111 if you cannot get help online.
Read more about coronavirus and what people with lung conditions should be doing to protect themselves in our regularly reviewed and updated information.