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Worried about the ‘twindemic’? Here's how to protect yourself this winter

Metro logo Metro 30/11/2022 HM Government
Eligible for a free jab? Millions of Brits are entitled to vaccinations delivered through the NHS © Provided by Metro Eligible for a free jab? Millions of Brits are entitled to vaccinations delivered through the NHS

With experts warning Britain faces a ‘twindemic’ of Covid-19 and flu this winter, make sure you’re vaccinated against both.

With the colder weather arriving, we are seeing increasing levels of flu and Covid-19 still with us. But there is something you can do to help protect yourself against these viruses.

Millions of Brits are entitled to free vaccinations, delivered through the NHS, which protect them against these viruses and reduce the risk of getting seriously ill. In particular, the over-50s, pregnant women, people with long-term health conditions and those who are immunosuppressed are being urged to have the vaccines. They’re the best way to protect yourself against serious illness as experts warn we face a potential ‘twindemic’ caused by the two viruses.

As the level of protection offered by the Covid vaccine decreases over time, it is important to boost your protection and get the booster vaccine when you are invited to do so. If you are eligible for the flu vaccine, it is important to get this every year because the viruses that cause flu can change every year.

Dr Thomas Waite, deputy chief medical officer for England, said: ‘Vaccines have saved many lives over the years for both flu and more recently Covid.

‘We must not be complacent’ – Dr Thomas Waite explains the importance of doing all we can this winter © Provided by Metro ‘We must not be complacent’ – Dr Thomas Waite explains the importance of doing all we can this winter

‘We must not be complacent. It’s really important that people get both their Covid and flu vaccines if eligible. Vaccines are the best way to protect yourself from serious illness and will help reduce pressure on the healthcare system.’

YOUR BEST DEFENCE

Both viruses are life-threatening: flu kills around 11,000 people in an average year in England and hospitalises tens of thousands.

And you’re much more likely to be seriously ill if you get Covid and flu at the same time. Research shows that you’re three times more likely to be hospitalised with Covid if you haven’t had a booster in more than six months.

Within 14 days of your Covid booster, your immunity against serious illness will have increased to around 90 per cent.

To date, more than 53 million people in the UK have had at least one Covid vaccine, and both the Covid and flu vaccines have a good safety record. All vaccinations in the UK undergo comprehensive clinical trials,

strict safety and effectiveness checks, and must be approved by an independent body, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). Side effects are generally mild and don’t last for long.

INCREASED THREAT IF YOU’RE ALREADY ILL

For those with weakened immune systems and chronic health conditions, Covid and flu are a particular threat. If you’re immunosuppressed, you’re 47 times more likely to die from flu.

If you have liver disease, you’re 48 times more likely, while with a neurological disease, it’s 40 times. For those who are diabetic or have kidney, heart or respiratory diseases, the risk of dying increases by between six and 19-fold.

All have a much greater chance of becoming seriously ill with Covid, so it’s vital people in these groups get both vaccinations.

PROTECT YOUR BABY…

Pregnant women are being urged to have both vaccines to protect themselves and their unborn baby.

The flu vaccine reduces the risk of serious complications such as pneumonia, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy. Flu infection increases the chances of pregnant women and their babies needing intensive care and the baby being stillborn or premature.

Pregnant women who contract Covid but are unvaccinated are also at increased risk of giving birth prematurely, or the baby being stillborn or with a low birthweight. It’s also believed that the virus is linked to dangerous complications such as pre-eclampsia.

…AND YOUR CHILD

Two- and three-year-olds also should be protected from flu as there’s an increased risk of respiratory diseases in winter. They can be vaccinated to protect against flu with a nasal spray, available from your GP.

Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), explains: ‘Younger children are unlikely to have built up any natural immunity to flu and therefore it is particularly important they take the nasal spray vaccine this year.’’

Find out if you’re eligible for a free flu vaccination or Covid booster at nhs.uk/wintervaccinations and book now. You can also book if you have not had your previous Covid jabs.

Bayan Mohajeri, 26, is a business development director living in central London. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November 2020.

Bayan says: ‘I was diagnosed during the pandemic after I’d been having symptoms for about a year. It was daunting but at least I knew what I was dealing with.

‘I’d been isolating but I had to be even more cautious when I started on an immunosuppressive treatment which meant I couldn’t have my Covid jab.

‘But that treatment didn’t work so my neurologist put me forward for a new treatment called HSCT in November last year – it’s a week of intense chemo in an isolation room where they wipe out your immune system.

Bayan was diagnosed with MS during the pandemic is now doing everything he can to protect himself © Provided by Metro Bayan was diagnosed with MS during the pandemic is now doing everything he can to protect himself

‘Afterwards I isolated at home for six months and it was only after 100 days that I could start getting revaccinated – all my childhood jabs, the flu vaccine and my first Covid jab in February or March this year.

‘That was a huge milestone – I was now on a journey back to “normal life”.

‘I had three Covid doses, a booster in August this year and another about three weeks ago, then the flu jab last week.

‘The reality is, there’s an increased risk the colder it gets. So for me it’s important to do everything I can to protect myself. Especially with immunity waning over time.

‘The vaccinations have allowed me to see friends and family again and alleviated the anxiety of thinking “What if I’m exposed to the virus?” At least now I have some sort of defence – it’s given me some comfort. I’d recommend everyone have the Covid booster and flu jab if you’re eligible.’

‘WE ALL HAVE A PART TO PLAY’

Jayne Pilkington, 42, lives in Penrith, Cumbria, with her partner. She has the liver disease PCB and is waiting for a liver transplant.

Jayne says: ‘I was diagnosed with PCB, where the immune system attacks the bile ducts, six years ago. It makes me itch and stops me sleeping. I’ve no quality of life which is why I need a transplant.

‘Before the vaccine, if I’d had Covid I’d have ended up in hospital – even if I get a cold, it can last a month. So the vaccine is invaluable, a lifeline.

As someone living with PCB, Jayne sees the vaccine as ‘a lifeline’ that will help reduce the spread of disease © Provided by Metro As someone living with PCB, Jayne sees the vaccine as ‘a lifeline’ that will help reduce the spread of disease

‘My first jab was in March last year, I had my second that May and a booster in November. I had my latest booster yesterday and I’m going to have my flu vaccination on Saturday.

‘It’s important for me – if I catch Covid, as I did in March, I get taken off the transplant list for 28 days because it’s too risky. I remember thinking, “What if one became available and I’m not on the list?”

‘Also, if I have flu, I can’t have the operation if a liver becomes available either.

‘It’s important we all have the vaccine – we all have a part to play in this. Hopefully it’ll reduce the spread of significant disease and protect hospital staff too.’

MY COVID WAS MILD BECAUSE I’D BEEN VACCINATED

Fatima Khan, 23, is a business strategy consultant who lives in west London. She was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory disease of the bowel, in November 2020.

Fatima says: ‘I was put on immunosuppressants when I was diagnosed to help keep the condition under control (I still take tablets every day) and I had to isolate.

‘I was quite scared of catching Covid because I didn’t want another thing on top of everything I’d already experienced.

‘In January 2021, I had an operation to remove the part of my bowel that was diseased but it wasn’t until June that year that I could have my first Covid vaccine as I needed time to recover from surgery.

‘I have a scientific background so when I heard about the Covid vaccine, I trusted it straight away. In fact, I was really excited about it. It felt like the beginning of the end.

‘I was really excited about it’ – Fatima looked forward to her first vaccine against Covid-19, especially being from a scientific background © Provided by Metro ‘I was really excited about it’ – Fatima looked forward to her first vaccine against Covid-19, especially being from a scientific background

‘After the vaccination (I had my second in July and a booster later) I remember going to the students’ union and not feeling nervous.

‘I’ve another booster booked for this month and I know my immune system probably needs it. I’ve had Covid twice since that first jab and it wasn’t as bad as I’d anticipated because of the jab.

‘I’d say to anyone who’s immunosuppressed, absolutely get it. It’s helped me alleviate any worries I’ve had about getting Covid – I know it’s not going to be as severe because my immune system is equipped to deal with it.’

AM I ELIGIBLE?

Those who can receive a free NHS influenza vaccination and Covid-19 booster now are:

• Those aged 50 and over.

• Those in these risk groups (from six months old for flu and from five years old for Covid-19):

• Chronic (long-term) respiratory disease, such as severe asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or bronchitis.

• Chronic heart disease, such as heart failure.

• Chronic kidney disease at stage 3, 4 or 5.

• Chronic liver disease.

• Chronic neurological disease, such as Parkinson’s disease or motor neurone disease.

• Learning disability.

• Diabetes.

• Asplenia or splenic dysfunction, such as coeliac syndrome.

• A weakened immune system due to disease (such as HIV/AIDS) or treatment (such as cancer treatment).

• Morbidly obese (defined as BMI of 40 and above).

• Severe mental illness, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia (eligible for Covid vaccine only).

• Pregnant women – at any stage in their pregnancy.

• Those in long-stay residential care homes.

• Carers who receive a Carer’s Allowance, or who are the main carers of an elderly or disabled person who

is at increased risk from flu or Covid-19.

• Close contacts of immunocompromised individuals.

• Frontline health and social care workers.

For flu, this should be offered through an employer or, for some health and social care workers who cannot get vaccinated through an occupational health scheme, under a complementary NHS offer.

Those eligible for flu vaccination (with a nasal spray) only are:

• Children aged 2-3 on August 31 2022.

• All children in primary school.

• Some secondary school children, later in the season.

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