Public Health Wales is urging anyone who is eligible for a free flu vaccine to take up the offer, in order to protect themselves and others from serious illness this winter.
Public Health experts are expecting a significant flu season this winter for the first time since the pandemic. There are concerns that it may start earlier this year and affect more people.
In addition, the Covid-19 autumn booster programme is now in progress and many people including everyone over 50 years old, and those at risk of severe disease are among those being offered a Covid-19 booster to reduce their chances of getting seriously ill with Covid-19.
Cases of flu (also known as influenza) are already being detected in Wales. Public health scientists say that the flu season could be as severe as the 2017/18 flu outbreak, where 16.5 thousand people in Wales were diagnosed with flu by their GP, and 2,500 people were hospitalised. There was also a high level of seasonal excess deaths that year – the worst for around 20 years.
Since March 2020, the Covid-19 lockdowns and international travel restrictions have disrupted the amount of respiratory viruses in circulation, but as our lives are going back to normal, viruses are returning in higher numbers. This year, Australia experienced a flu season which was earlier than usual and saw the highest case levels in five years. It is possible that the UK – and Wales – will experience similar flu activity.
With Covid-19 also in circulation, and added winter pressures on the NHS, it is more important than ever that those who are eligible for a free flu or Covid-19 vaccine get vaccinated to help prevent them becoming seriously unwell and protect the NHS this winter.
Dr Christopher Johnson, Consultant Epidemiologist and Interim Head of Public Health Wales’ Vaccine Preventable Disease Programme explains “Flu can be serious, particularly for those who are older or have a health condition and are more vulnerable to complications as a result of the flu. It is well known that having a flu vaccine every year is one of the most effective ways to protect against flu.
“Likewise the COVID-19 autumn booster vaccination extends the protection against serious illness. Any side effects from the vaccinations are normally mild and don’t last long. The chances of becoming seriously ill with Covid-19 or flu are greatly reduced by vaccination, as are the risks of spreading these viruses. Vaccination really is the best way to protect ourselves and others this winter from serious illness.”
To promote the vaccinations, Public Health Wales has launched a campaign encouraging those eligible to ‘power up’ their protection against serious illness this winter by getting the flu and Covid-19 vaccines. The campaign launches on 27 September with digital and social content as well as stakeholder outreach and radio adverts.
Vaccination is particularly important for those who are older, pregnant, or have a health condition and are more vulnerable to complications as a result of the infections. It is also very important that frontline healthcare workers and those who work in care homes or providing care in peoples own homes get their vaccines to help reduce the spread of these viruses.
To help stop flu and other viruses spreading, remember to ‘Catch it, Bin it, Kill it.’
For more information about how to get the vaccines, please visit: Flu vaccine and COVID-19 Autumn Booster.