The annual NHS Wales Beat Flu campaign has launched and is encouraging everyone eligible for flu vaccination to get protected.
The free vaccine is being made more widely available to now include all primary school children and pre-schoolers aged two and three. For the first time the vaccine is also being offered to staff with regular client contact working in residential care and nursing homes this winter.
Annual flu vaccination is the best protection against catching or spreading flu, a potentially life-threatening infection. Every year over two thirds of those aged 65 and over and almost half of people in at-risk groups in Wales get their flu jab.
Over 820,000 flu vaccines were given by NHS Wales last year.
Developments for this year include:
- All primary school children are now eligible for a free nasal spray flu vaccine, as well as children aged two and three years (age on 31 August 2018).
- Staff in adult care homes who have regular contact with residents can have a free NHS flu vaccine at many community pharmacies. This will help protect care home residents who are more vulnerable to complications from flu and reduce the spread of flu.
- To improve effectiveness different flu vaccines recommended for different age groups are being introduced this year. Delivery of supplies of certain flu vaccines to GP practices and community pharmacies will be staggered between September and November. Some people may be asked to wait until the most effective vaccine for them is available. It’s planned that everyone will be offered vaccination before mid-December when flu typically starts to circulate.
Pregnant women, people with long-term health conditions and everyone aged 65 and over are also eligible for a free NHS flu vaccination, along with unpaid carers and first aid volunteers. All health and social care staff with direct patient or client contact are also recommended to have the vaccine to protect themselves and those they care for. They can ask their occupational health department or employer about where and when to get their vaccine.
Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething AM, will be launching the campaign today at Boots, Cwmbran, while he receives his vaccination.
He emphasised the importance of annual flu vaccination for those most at risk:
“Flu can be a life-threatening illness for people who are at risk due to their age, an underlying health problem, or because they are pregnant. This was sadly emphasised all too clearly during the influenza outbreak last winter.
“Flu spreads very easily, especially among children. By extending the programme to include all primary school age children this year we hope to protect them from catching flu, and also prevent them spreading it to others in their family and in the community who may be vulnerable.
“We are also offering the flu vaccine to residential care and nursing home staff for the first time this year. Despite having high flu vaccination rates in residents, flu can spread easily within care homes and can be passed from staff to residents when the staff member has mild or even no symptoms. This is partly because as people age they do not produce as good an immune response to vaccination. This makes vaccination of staff caring for frail, older people even more important.
“Therefore, for winter 2018-19, I took the decision to offer flu vaccination to staff working in adult residential care and nursing homes, at no cost to themselves or their employers through community pharmacies on the NHS.
“Flu vaccination is available at your GP surgery and at many community pharmacies across Wales. It is the best way to protect yourself and others against this dangerous virus, so make sure you get protected soon.”
Dr Richard Roberts, Head of the Vaccine Preventable Disease Programme at Public Health Wales, said: “Each year new flu viruses circulate, causing many people to be ill and some to face life-threatening complications. And flu vaccines are changed each year to try to match the flu viruses circulating in order to give the best protection.
“Last winter there were 2,680 patients with confirmed flu in hospitals – 192 in intensive care units. As well as the impact on these individuals, this places an additional pressure on the health service at a busy time of year.
“People with chronic conditions or compromised immune systems are over ten times more likely to suffer severe outcomes from influenza and we want to see even more people protected this year.”
While most NHS flu vaccines are given in GP surgeries, it is also available for adults in many community pharmacies across Wales.
Mark Griffiths, chair of Community Pharmacy Wales, said:
“Community pharmacies across Wales are playing an increasing role in helping to vaccinate vulnerable people against flu in a convenient setting. We have for several years provided vaccines to many risk groups such as pregnant women and those with chronic long term conditions. This year for the first time we will also be offering NHS flu vaccines without charge to staff working in adult residential care and nursing homes with regular client contact. This is a great example of community pharmacies working with Welsh Government and other primary care colleagues to help improve the health of people in Wales.”
Flu is a respiratory illness caused by a virus that affects the lungs and airways. Symptoms generally come on suddenly, and can include fever, chills, headache, cough, body aches and fatigue.
Flu is spread via droplets which are sprayed into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Direct contact with contaminated hands or surfaces can also spread infection. It can spread rapidly, especially in closed communities such as hospitals, residential homes and schools.