The biggest flu programme in the history of the NHS has started, with Health Secretary Sajid Javid urging people to take it up.
The call to get the jab comes as experts predicted the flu and Covid-19 viruses could push the health service to breaking point this winter.
The Government has launched the biggest flu programme in NHS history, with more than 35 million people in England eligible for a free vaccine.
However, some people might be unsure if they are eligible to get the vaccine or if pregnancy or illness would be a reason not to. Here’s what you need to know about the flu jab.
Can you get the jab if you are pregnant?
Yes. More than 35 million people in England can take up the offer of a free flu jab this year.
People aged 50 and over, including those who will turn 50 by the end of March 2022, are eligible.
As well as this, pregnant women, people with certain health conditions, carers and those in long-stay residential care, those living with someone who is more likely to get infections, and frontline health or social care workers are also eligible.
The NHS recommends all pregnant women have the flu vaccine, whatever stage of pregnancy they’re at. On its website it states: “The flu jab will help protect both you and your baby.
“There is good evidence that pregnant women have a higher chance of developing complications if they get flu, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy.
“One of the most common complications of flu is bronchitis, a chest infection that can become serious and develop into pneumonia.
“If you have flu while you’re pregnant, it could cause your baby to be born prematurely or have a low birthweight, and may even lead to stillbirth or death.”
Is it safe to have the jab while pregnant or breastfeeding?
According to the NHS studies show it’s safe to have the flu vaccine during any stage of pregnancy, from the first few weeks up to your expected due date.
Women who have had the flu vaccine while pregnant also pass some protection on to their babies, which lasts for the first few months of their lives.
It’s also safe for women who are breastfeeding to have the vaccine.
Who shouldn’t have it?
The NHS website says most adults can have the flu vaccine, but people should avoid it if they have had a serious allergic reaction to a flu vaccine in the past.
People may be at risk of an allergic reaction to the flu vaccine injection if they have an egg allergy. This is because some flu vaccines are made using eggs.
Ask a GP or pharmacist for a low-egg or egg-free vaccine.
If someone is ill with a high temperature, it’s best to wait until they are better before having the flu vaccine
How serious could the situation get this winter?
Earlier this week, Professor Neil Ferguson, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the UK does not have much “headroom” for rising Covid-19 cases before the NHS becomes “heavily stressed”.
A report in the summer from the Academy of Medical Sciences assessed the triple threat of coronavirus, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and found that hospital admissions and deaths from flu and RSV could be more than double those seen in a normal year, leading to as many as 60,000 flu deaths and 40,000 children in hospital with RSV.
What are the hopes for uptake of the flu jab this year?
The NHS has set an ambition to reach at least 85% of people aged 65 and over.
It also hopes to reach at least 75% of people with underlying health conditions, such as asthma and heart disease, at least 75% of pregnant women and at least 70% of eligible children.
It is hoped at least 85% of frontline health and social care workers will accept a flu jab this year.
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