Flu vaccine and Covid booster jabs in England: Who's eligible and can you get both at the same time?

Why healthcare officials are urging people to take up offers for flu and Covid booster jabs this winter, explains ITV News Reporter Martha Fairlie

This winter will see the biggest flu vaccine programme in the NHS’s history, while millions of people are eligible for a Covid booster jab.

People are being urged to get both if offered, amid fears the two viruses, as well as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), could push the health service to breaking point this winter with deaths from flu anticipated to be much higher than average.

On average around 11,000 people die each year in England from flu, but there are fears the death toll could be as 60,000 due to a lack of exposure last winter due to social distancing.

Here we take a look at what you need to know about flu and Covid jabs:

Who can get a free flu vaccine?

More than 35 million people can take up the offer of a free flu jab this year in England.

People aged 50 and over, including those who will turn 50 by the end of March next year, will be able to get the flu vaccine.

As well as this, people with certain health conditions, pregnant women, 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.

Dr Sarah Jarvis explains why there will be an uptake in the flu vaccine this winter

And what about Covid booster jabs?

Some 28 million people in England are eligible for a booster jab, with around 1.7 million people having had a third shot already.

Those who can have a booster include everyone aged 50 and over, frontline health and social care workers, and those aged between 16 and 49 with an underlying health condition putting them at greater risk from Covid-19.

Boosters will be given to people at least six months after they had their second coronavirus jab.

Can the jabs be administered at the same time?

In some parts of the country, people might be offered the Covid jab in one arm and the flu vaccine in the other on the same day, although this will not be available everywhere.

Why is this the biggest flu jab programme in NHS history?

With lockdowns and social distancing last winter not many people got flu, therefore there is not as much natural immunity as there would usually be.

The spread of flu this winter might be greater than usual, making it a “significant public health concern” as it can be fatal, according to England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam.

He warned the public of the need to take “seriously” the fact that we face a winter of both Covid-19 and flu co-circulating.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England.

So what can we do to help ourselves?

Prof Van-Tam said we need to “defend ourselves and the NHS by getting the annual flu jab and the Covid-19 booster when called”.

He said: “Both these viruses are serious: they can both spread easily, cause hospitalisation and they can both be fatal.

“It is really important that people get their vaccines as soon as they can.”

What if you are not eligible for a free flu vaccine?

It is possible to make an appointment and pay for a dose at pharmacies.

Professor Neil Ferguson

What are the predictions for how serious the situation might 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.

More than 80% of people aged 65 and over had their flu jab last year – exceeding a global target of 75%. The NHS has set an ambition to reach at least 85% of this group this flu season.

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.

Those not eligible for a free flu jab can make an appointment for a paid-for dose at pharmacies.

All frontline health and social care workers will also be offered a flu jab, with an ambition that at least 85% will accept.

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What about the rest of the UK?

In Wales, flu vaccine coverage, which includes all those aged over 50 and secondary school pupils in years 7-11, will stretch to more than 1.5 million people.

The Welsh government is aiming for 75% of secondary school pupils to have the flu jab and 80% of those aged 65 and over.

In Scotland, an estimated four million people – almost three-quarters of the population – have been eligible for the flu jab since September.

Eligible groups there have been extended to include teachers, prison staff and inmates, NHS contractors and those working in the Covid-19 testing programme.

In September, Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer Professor Sir Michael McBride said the circulation of Covid-19 and seasonal flu and other respiratory viruses this winter will “inevitably put further pressure on our health service”.

An estimated 900,000 people will receive a coronavirus booster jab in Northern Ireland, and Prof McBride said: “Most of the people in this group will also be eligible for the annual flu vaccine and we strongly advise them to take up this invitation as well.”