Vaccinations to protect the most vulnerable against flu and COVID-19 started this week across Hertfordshire and eligible people are being urged to get the jabs as soon as they are offered.
The winter vaccination programme, which was originally due to start next month, has been brought forward following the identification of a new variant of COVID-19. Whilst work continues to better understand this new variant, speeding up the autumn vaccine programme will deliver greater protection, supporting those at greatest risk of severe illness and reducing the potential impact on the NHS.
Care home residents and people who are housebound are among the first groups to start receiving vaccines, along with frontline health and social care staff. Vaccinations for these groups have already started.
Flu and COVID-19 can cause serious illness in people with existing health conditions. Immunisation experts from the JCVI have drawn up a list of those who need extra protection with a flu vaccine, a COVID-19 booster, or both: hertsandwestessexics.org.uk/winter-vaccines
The list includes people aged 65 and over, those with a weakened immune system, some health conditions, front line health and social care staff and carers. Pregnant women are also entitled to a flu vaccination.
It is important that those who are eligible top up their protection, even if they have had a vaccine or been ill with flu or COVID-19 before, as immunity fades over time and these viruses change each year. Without a vaccination, some people are at greater risk of becoming seriously unwell or being admitted to hospital.
Dr Jane Halpin, Chief Executive of NHS Hertfordshire and West Essex Integrated Care Board (ICB) said: ‘Vaccines are a quick and easy way to protect ourselves and our loved ones against these diseases. We are starting by vaccinating those at the greatest risk, along with the staff who care for us all if we are unwell. We’ve kicked off the programme early this year because the new COVID-19 variant is a real concern.
‘If you receive an invitation from your GP practice to have the flu and COVID-19 vaccines, please take up that opportunity. It’s safe to have both vaccinations at the same time and you will only need to have one appointment. With the weather being unseasonably warm recently, you might not have been thinking about your winter vaccinations, but now is the time to protect yourself early and get ahead of the viruses. Please make sure you get vaccinated when offered and encourage loved ones who are eligible to do the same.’
Over the coming weeks GP practices will contact their patients to invite them to a vaccination clinic, but eligible people can also choose to have their vaccinations at a local pharmacy.
Eligible people can book a COVID booster by using the NHS website, the NHS App or by calling 119. For flu vaccinations from a pharmacy, please drop in to your preferred pharmacy to make an appointment. Please have your NHS number to hand when you come for your appointment.
The annual NHS flu vaccination programme for children is also getting underway slightly earlier than previous years in order to protect children before flu begins circulating. Children in reception to year 11 will be offered the nasal spray at school and children aged 2 and 3 years will be invited to have the nasal spray at their GP practice.
Prof. Jim McManus, Director of Public Health at Hertfordshire County Council said: ‘Flu can be a very unpleasant illness in children and some may develop serious complications that need hospital treatment, including intensive care. Having the flu nasal spray is the best protection for your family this winter and is quick and painless. If your child is at school, look out for the consent form that your school will send you. Please complete this as soon as possible so that your child is ready for when the vaccination team visits over the coming weeks. For younger children, please get in touch with your GP practice to make an appointment for them as soon as you can.’
You can also find information on the NHS website.