Dr Ranj, NHS Doctor, BAFTA award-winning TV presenter, author and columnist, has joined Age UK in urging older people to do all they can to stay well this autumn and winter by making sure they have a COVID-19 booster and flu vaccination, when it becomes available to them.
For those eligible, getting a COVID-19 booster and flu vaccine is one of the most important things an older person can do to protect their health. Older people and those with particular health conditions are most at risk from the serious impacts of flu and COVID-19 so it is vital that older people protect themselves as soon as they can, when the NHS contacts them. Cases of flu during the last two years were unusually low due to the pandemic restrictions but experts expect flu to return as a significant risk this winter.
Concerns that more people may be likely to get flu this winter as fewer people will have built up natural immunity during the pandemic, along with worsening flu infection rates in the southern hemisphere, have prompted NHS guidance for everyone aged 50+ to be offered a further dose of COVID-19 booster and a flu jab this autumn to increase protection. Unpaid carers, residents of older adult care homes, health and social care staff and household contacts of people with weakened immune system are also eligible for flu and COVID-19 booster vaccinations. In addition, those aged under 50 with particular health conditions are also eligible. People who are most at risk will generally be invited first, followed by all others.
Flu infection rates in Australia rose sharply in May – earlier in the season than usually expected – and were higher than the five-year average during their autumn and early winter. The Australian flu season is a key resource because it helps us to predict what will happen during the winter months in the UK. This year’s Australian data suggest that we may also see rises in flu infection rates earlier than usual in the UK this year. This makes it vital that older people protect themselves by having the vaccinations that are offered to them as soon as they can.
Dr Ranj Singh said: ‘Sadly this year it seems that we may be expecting a particular nasty flu strain and even though it may feel like coronavirus has gone away to a certain degree I would still encourage all older people to get both their COVID-19 and flu vaccine booster, as soon as they can. It is still really important. Both those vaccinations need topping up to be most effective, especially as we move into autumn and winter and viruses start to thrive again.
‘We know that catching the flu and COVID-19 viruses at the same time can be really dangerous for vulnerable people, but the simple fact is that being vaccinated helps prevent hospitalisation and serious illnesses, which is why I am supporting Age UK in their call for all older people to have both vaccinations when they are called, messaged or written to by the NHS.’
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said: ‘Speaking as someone who has already had the double jab, because my GP surgery was in the vanguard, my advice to older people is please do take up the offer of the COVID-19 booster and a flu jab when it comes your way. Millions of older people took the opportunity of having the spring booster, so we are urging everyone to do the same this autumn. It’s perfectly safe to have them together, and often more convenient too – I chose to do it that way so I wouldn’t have to go back. However, you are offered the choice of having them singly or together when you attend. So, whenever you are called for vaccination please do accept – you’ll be doing yourself some good and helping to protect everyone else you come into contact with too.
‘Flu vaccines help protect against the main types of flu viruses. There’s still a chance we might get flu even after vaccination but, if we do, the symptoms are likely to be milder and should not last as long. Having the flu vaccine will also reduce the chances of us spreading the virus to others who may be more at risk of serious problems than we are, so it’s also a socially responsible thing to do.
‘Vaccinations are the best defence we have against having our health badly undermined this winter, so we cannot overstate how important it is that everyone who is eligible actually receives them. With all the worries about energy prices it’s more important than ever to stay fit and well this year, and getting these vaccinations will help.’
Each year on average 11,000 people in England die of influenza and in 2017/18 before the COVID-19 pandemic, Public Health England estimated that figure reached a staggering 22,000 deaths, the highest death toll in recent years. Nearly 2,000 deaths that year which involved influenza were among those aged 60 and over.