Research shows people can catch both diseases at the same time, with serious and sometimes deadly consequences.
This year, for the first time, anyone aged over 50 in England will be eligible for the free flu vaccine as well as Year 7 pupils.
Other entitled groups include:
- initially all people over 65, before the programme is extended to the over-50s
- pre-school children over the age of two
- all primary school children, as last year
- people who were required to shield from coronavirus and anyone they live with
- people with some medical conditions including diabetes, heart failure and asthma
- pregnant women
- healthcare and social care staff
- people living in a residential or nursing home
- people who are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person.
The NHS will get in contact with those who are eligible.
With a vaccine for coronavirus not available yet and experts worried the UK could see the virus rip through the population this winter, the NHS and Public Health England have this week launched a campaign to encourage flu jab take-up.
PHE research into Covid-19 illness between January and April among nearly 20,000 hospital patients suggests the risk of death is more than doubled for people who catch flu on top of coronavirus, compared to coronavirus alone.
Flu by itself can also be a serious condition – it kills around 11,000 people in England each year and hospitalises many more. People at high risk from flu are also most at risk from Covid-19.
Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, said: “Flu can be deadly and it is easily spread in children and adults. The vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from becoming ill with the flu, especially if you are in a vulnerable group.
“This winter with Covid still circulating, and the increased risk to life if you are ill with both viruses simultaneously, it is even more vital to get the free jab as soon as you can.”
People who are not eligible for a free jab could pay for one at pharmacies and supermarkets, although availability is limited currently while stocks are prioritised to those who need it the most.
Boots has temporarily suspended its bookings for anyone under the age of 65 and is temporarily limiting existing stocks to those at highest risk – people 65 and over.
NHS England confirmed there is no nationwide shortage of flu jabs, but that those eligible for the free vaccine would be immunised in phases, with the highest risk groups receiving it first.
It is unclear how bad flu might be this winter – some years are worse than others – but experts say the vaccine is a good match for the strain of flu that will be circulating.
Flu, like coronavirus, is a viral infection that is passed on through coughs and sneezes. Social distancing, masks and handwashing should help reduce the spread of both.
Advice for those with flu or Covid-19 symptoms
Most people with flu recover at home in a week, but people with chronic conditions or who are over 65 should call NHS 111. If you think you have either flu or Covid-19, you should stay at home and self-isolate.
Book a coronavirus test if you have:
- a high fever
- a new, continuous cough
- a loss of, or a change to your sense of smell or taste.
Councillor Moira Smith, South Tyneside Council’s Lead Member for Public Health, recently had her flu vaccine and is urging others to either make an appointment with their GP or visit their local pharmacist to have their flu vaccine.
She said: “For the majority of people, flu is an unpleasant, but not life-threatening illness. However, it can be very serious for older people and those groups at risk of developing complications.
“They include those with weakened immune systems as well as underlying conditions such as liver, lung or renal disease, heart problems or diabetes and pregnant women. It is still not too late to get your flu jab – please make it a top priority this New Year.”
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Q&A from NHS England
How and when will people be contacted? Do they have to wait to be contacted before booking a vaccine?
People who are eligible will be contacted by their GP and/or receive a letter from the NHS Immunisation Management System. However, you do not have to wait to be contacted before booking a vaccine.
Does anyone need to bring evidence with them if they want to book a free vaccine before they receive a letter?
No, you don’t need to bring evidence with you, but if you receive an invitation or reminder letter it would help the NHS if you brought that with you when you have your appointment.
When will the vaccine be available?
Some vaccine is available from September and more will be become available in October and November.
What safety measures are taken by GPs and pharmacists?
GP and pharmacists will take all necessary measures to make sure the flu vaccine is given in a safe environment. Venues will be disinfected, staff will wear protective equipment and social distancing will be in place.