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Flu jab 2021: Who’s eligible for a free vaccine?

By Smitha Mundasad
Health reporter

image source, Getty Images

The government is considering whether to make flu and Covid jabs compulsory for frontline NHS and care workers in England.

There are fears this winter could see the UK facing a difficult annual flu season alongside coronavirus surges.

Who can get a free flu jab?

This year sees the biggest ever expansion of England’s flu vaccine roll-out. It will be offered to:

  • All children who are aged two and three on 31 August 2021
  • All children in primary school and all secondary school pupils under the age of 16 on 31 August
  • Those aged six months to under 50 years in clinical risk groups
  • Pregnant women
  • Those aged 50 years and over
  • People in residential care
  • Unpaid carers
  • Close contacts of people with weakened immune systems
  • Health and care staff

The flu vaccine will be be offered via your GP, local pharmacy and schools.

What about the rest of the UK?

Health officials in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales plan to cover similar groups – with some variation.

In Scotland, teachers, nursery teachers and support staff in close contact with pupils are being offered the jab.

In Northern Ireland secondary school children in their first year can have the vaccine. Older children are eligible if they are at risk.

Who else can get a jab?

People not included in these groups will be able to pay for a flu vaccine at some supermarkets and High Street chemists.

Doctors also want to boost vaccination levels in the most deprived areas.

How bad is flu?

Flu – or influenza – is a very common, highly infectious disease, caused by a virus.

It can be deadly – particularly for older adults, very young children and people with underlying health conditions.

The average number of estimated deaths in England for the past five annual flu seasons is more than 11,000 – but there have been big variations each winter.

There were more than 22,000 estimated deaths in the 2017-18 season, but just under 4,000 deaths in 2018-19.

image source, Getty Images
image captionSocial distancing influenced the spread of the flu last winter

Will there be a lot of flu this year?

A combination of masks, social distancing and restrictions on international travel helped keep flu levels extremely low last winter.

As a result, scientists expect fewer people to be immune this season.

And as social mixing returns towards pre-pandemic levels, this could be the first UK winter when the seasonal flu virus (and other respiratory viruses) will be spread alongside Covid.

The concern is this may add a substantial burden to the winter pressures faced by the NHS.

Some not-yet published mathematical predictions, seen by the UK’s vaccine advisors, suggest the 2021-2022 flu season could be up to 50% larger than usual and may begin earlier.

Can you get flu and coronavirus jabs at the same time?

Trials are under way to work out whether it would be possible to give Covid and flu jabs at the same appointment.

The UK’s vaccine advisors are considering the pros and cons of booster jabs for coronavirus and which groups should be offered them.

Who should take extra care and why?

The worry is that certain groups of people – the elderly, pregnant women and those with long-term health conditions – are at high risk of becoming seriously ill from both coronavirus and flu.

And while many healthy people can fight off the flu, there can be complications – most commonly a bacterial chest infection, which can develop into pneumonia.

Other potential life-threatening complications include septic shock.

Do I have flu or coronavirus?

Many of the symptoms are similar for both viruses:

Some people may also experience muscle aches, a headache, and possibly diarrhoea or vomiting.

And if you add in other common winter viruses it can be hard to be sure what is making someone ill.

If any doubt, it’s best to get a test.

Flu and coronavirus can also be spread before people have symptoms – or by people who don’t get symptoms.

image source, Getty Images
image captionNew measures may be put in place while people have their vaccinations

Will the flu vaccine work?

Every year, the WHO looks at the current circulating flu strains before recommending what the next set of vaccines should contain.

But because the vaccines often have to be made six months in advance, they can only ever be a prediction.

And the southern hemisphere – which scientists monitor to see which strains to include – is also seeing much less flu this winter.

But experts say it’s better to be vaccinated against some strains of flu than none at all – particularly during a pandemic.

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