Health experts across Kent and Medway are urging those most at risk from flu to protect themselves and their families by taking up the offer of a free flu jab.
The latest statistics for England and the South East region show that excess winter deaths reached a record high last year* and the Office for National Statistics reports flu is a major contributory factor.
Flu is a highly infectious disease and can lead to serious complications if you have a long-term health condition like COPD; bronchitis, emphysema; diabetes; heart, kidney or liver disease or have suffered a stroke. Flu on top of health conditions like these can easily develop into something very serious and lead to hospitalisation. People with these and other long-term health conditions, as well as those over 65-years-old, pregnant women, children aged two and three, as well as school children from reception class through to year five, are eligible for the free flu vaccine. For eligible children, the flu vaccine is not an injection, just a quick nasal spray.
Dr Alison Taylor, Medical Director for NHS England in Kent, Surrey and Sussex said: “Flu is a common ailment and many people can get over it with rest and fluids, but for some people in high-risk groups, such as the elderly and those with long-term conditions, it can lead to serious and potentially life-threatening complications, such as pneumonia or bronchitis. The flu vaccine is the best form of protection and now is a good time to contact your GP surgery or pharmacy for more details about how you, or an eligible family member or friend can get the vaccine for free.”
Flu vaccination is part of the Stay Well This Winter campaign, a joint initiative from NHS England and Public Health England, supported by Kent County Council, to help the public ward off common winter illnesses. KCC Director of Public Health, Andrew Scott-Clark said: “Full protection from the vaccine can take up to two weeks to develop and people should act now to protect themselves against flu and make sure that flu doesn’t ruin their Christmas. Residents should contact their local GP or pharmacist as a matter of urgency.
“In recent years, hospitals across the region have been busy with people who could have been vaccinated. The flu vaccine can help protect you from flu and also reduce the chance of flu spreading to others.”
If you have a child aged two or three, get them vaccinated against flu with the free nasal spray flu vaccine from your GP. School children from reception class through to year five will get their vaccinations through their school.
Pregnancy naturally weakens the body’s immune system and as flu can cause serious complications for you and your baby, pregnant women who get the flu may be less able to fight off infections, increasing the risk of becoming ill. The flu jab is the safest way to protect you and your baby against flu and you can have it at any stage of pregnancy, however fit and healthy you might feel.
The ONS figures for last winter (2017/18), counted as December to March, are still provisional while figures for all other previous winters have been confirmed.
District level figures for Kent and Medway are not yet available for 2017/18 but are expected to follow the national and regional increases. The latest available figures at district level (2016/17) were not as high as the previous peak in 2014/15.