Don’t delay – book your NHS flu jab today: That’s the message from local health professionals to people who are most vulnerable to the flu, as the Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire (BNSSG) area begins its largest flu vaccination programme to date.
With Covid-19 an extra threat this year, doctors, pharmacists and public health leaders are keen to make sure that eligible patients get their free NHS flu jab as soon as possible, to protect themselves and others from the double risk of flu and Covid-19 and reduce pressures on health services this winter.
Over-65s, people with long-term health conditions and pregnant women will all be offered the jab by their GP, while primary school children will receive the nasal spray vaccination via their school.
And this year children in school year 7 (ages 11 to 12), household contacts of people on the NHS shielded patient list and frontline health and social care workers are also eligible for the jab, alongside people aged 50-64 who will be offered the vaccination later in the season.
Those eligible for a free jab on the NHS can also get their vaccination from participating pharmacists.
With the addition of new patient groups, more than a third of the BNSSG population (over 300,000 people) are eligible for a free NHS flu jab this year and doctors are keen to make sure that as many as possible take up the offer.
Local GP and primary care clinical lead at Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire CCG, Dr Geeta Iyer said: “Flu is a serious illness that hospitalises and kills thousands each year, so it’s always important that we protect the most vulnerable from its effects.
“But this year there’s an even greater urgency because of the presence of Covid-19. If you get flu and Covid-19 at the same time, you may become more seriously ill so it’s vital that vulnerable groups get their free flu jab as soon as possible.
“That’s particularly important for groups who we know are at greater risk from Covid-19, such as members of ethnic minorities, men, and those with weakened immune systems.”
Pharmacist Richard Brown, from the Avon Local Pharmaceutical Committee said: “Flu can cause people to be seriously unwell and this year of all years it’s vital that we protect at-risk groups who might also be at higher risk from Covid-19 as well. That means getting the jab if you’re offered, not only because it will protect you, but because it will reduce the chance of your friends, loved ones and elderly relatives getting the flu too.
“It also helps the NHS protect people from Covid-19 because if fewer people are hospitalised with flu, hospitals will have more capacity to look after Covid-19 patients.”
Deputy Mayor of Bristol, Asher Craig said: “In Bristol this winter, it is more important than ever that we work together to protect the most vulnerable in our community, and reduce the pressure on our NHS by minimising hospitalisation due to flu. I urge everyone who is eligible for an NHS flu vaccine to receive it with confidence. It takes just a few minutes, but it could save someone’s life here in Bristol.
“It’s also important to remember that the best way to prevent the spread of flu, aside from having your flu vaccine, is to practice good hygiene habits. Catch coughs and sneezes in a tissue, bin them straight away, and wash your hands frequently to reduce spread.”
Matt Lenny, Director of Public Health at North Somerset Council, said: “I’d urge everyone who is eligible to take up the free flu vaccine this winter. We know that the flu can cause severe complications, particularly for high risk groups, and as we’ve seen with COVID-19 respiratory illnesses can be extremely serious, sometimes even fatal.
“People at high risk from COVID-19 are also those most at risk from flu, but fortunately we have a safe and effective vaccine for flu. While the threat of flu may be invisible, the protection is clear. Please do get your flu vaccination. This year, it’s more important than ever and will help save lives.”
Sara Blackmore, Director of Public Health at South Gloucestershire Council said: "This winter, more than ever, it is vitally important that we take the issue of flu seriously. Those with health conditions who receive an invitation letter from their GP are strongly encouraged to get their free flu jab. People should be reassured that GPs and pharmacies are following strict guidance to reduce infection transmission to make it safer for vulnerable people to receive their vaccines.
“It is important that people in priority groups, including health and social care workers and paid and unpaid carers, get vaccinated to protect themselves and those close to them who may be vulnerable.
“Taking up the offer of a flu jab reduces the chances of being hospitalised by flu and ensures that more NHS resources can be used to fight COVID-19.”
Local GP practices in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire have already begun contacting patients to invite them in for a vaccination, and eligible patients can also access the flu jab from their local pharmacist.
Dr Iyer added: “We want to make it as easy as possible for eligible patients to get their jab, and with the social distancing restrictions affecting capacity at practices we have multiple ways of delivering the vaccine to our population including through pharmacies, schools, midwifery services and outreach to care homes and other sites.
“We’re also taking the opportunity to deliver the vaccination directly to people in their communities, through initiatives such as pop-up clinics at community sites.”
Community vaccination clinics are taking place in a range of locations across the BNSSG area, including Portishead Folk Hall in North Somerset, the Old School Hall in Almondsbury and the Gloucester Cricket Ground in Bristol.