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Health chiefs urge local people to protect themselves from flu this winter

Public Health England and NHS England’s Stay Well This Winter campaign has now launched across Lancashire, which means its officially flu season and winter is most definitely coming.

Now in its third year, the Stay Well This Winter campaign aims to protect the most vulnerable people living across Lancashire from the dangers of flu, helps prepare everyone for winter and avoid having to visit hospital due to common winter illnesses.

People who are the most vulnerable to flu are being urged to get their free flu vaccination, ahead of the winter period when the virus is most common. This year’s campaign aims to continue to increase uptake of the flu vaccination. The flu vaccination is offered to those who are at increased risk from the effects of flu. This includes people aged 65 and over, pregnant women and those with long term health conditions.

Last year in Lancashire 34.3% of children aged 2-4 years were vaccinated, with children also offered the vaccine in school years 1, 2 and 3. In addition, the vaccine was also administered 52.1% of people in at-risk groups and 72.9% of people aged 65 or older. Uptake by pregnant women nationally was 44.9%.

Rachel Borg, from Blackpool, is mum to an 8yr old and is 33 weeks pregnant with her second child. Rachel wasn’t offered the flu jab when pregnant with her first child, so when practice nurse Debbie Preston advised her about the benefits of having the flu jab when pregnant, Rachel wanted to do all she could to protect her and her baby from the virus.

Rachel said, “My advice for other pregnant women would be to definitely get the flu jab, I barely felt anything and it protects you and your baby and minimises the risk of getting poorly.

“As I wasn’t offered the vaccination in my first pregnancy, I wasn’t sure at first if it was the right thing to do but my practice nurse Debbie reassured me that there is no side affects that could harm me or the baby.”

This year, the flu vaccination programme is being rolled out even further. All year 4 children will be offered the vaccine, in the form of a painless nasal spray, in a school setting, along with children in reception and years 1, 2 and 3. Children aged 2 and three will be invited to attend their GP practice to get the flu vaccine.

The programme launches as the Chief Medical Officer has warned that flu, and complications associated with it, cause 8000 deaths on average a year in England.

Jane Cass, Acting Locality Director, NHS England (Lancashire and South Cumbria), said: “For many people flu is an unpleasant illness but for the most vulnerable in society, small children, the elderly, those with long-term health problems and for pregnant women – it is extremely dangerous and can be lethal.

“Getting the vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from catching flu and my advice for anyone eligible for the free flu vaccination is to get it now before flu starts to circulate acrossLancashire and South Cumbria.”

People with respiratory diseases like COPD, emphysema or asthma are seven times more likely to die if they catch flu, and people with cardiovascular problems like chronic heart disease or angina, or have had a stroke, are 11 times more likely compared to those who don’t. The risk is far worse for those with chronic liver disease, who are 48 times more likely to die if they get flu.

Another way of protecting vulnerable adults is to vaccinate children, who are ‘super-spreaders’ of the virus. Last year’s flu vaccination programme reduced the risk of flu in children who received the vaccine by 65%. For healthy children aged 2-8 the flu vaccine is given in the form of a nasal spray, administered by a health professional.

Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer said: “Flu kills and we could save thousands of lives if everyone eligible got their free jab.

“With more people eligible than ever before and the vaccine available in more locations, people should protect themselves and those around them against this potentially deadly virus. Taking a few minutes to get the jab could save your life this winter.”

To get your vaccine or find out if you are eligible, contact your GP, pharmacist or midwife for more information. Visit nhs.uk/staywell for more details on how to help you and your family to stay well this winter.