From today, millions of people in at risk groups are urged to get vaccinated, as the seasonal flu vaccine is made available free of charge from GPs for people in at risk groups.
Seasonal flu can be life-threatening. Last year, 602 people with flu died in the UK. About 70% of deaths were in young and middle aged people aged 15 to 64 years.
But people are playing Russian roulette with their lives every year by not protecting themselves against seasonal flu, the Chief Medical Officer has warned.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies said: “A five minute appointment to have the flu jab could save your life.
“Flu can be a serious illness - particularly for those in at risk groups. It can result in a spell in hospital, and sadly, flu can kill. The best way to protect yourself is to be vaccinated.
“There is no reason not to get vaccinated. It takes five to ten days for the vaccine to take effect so I’d urge everyone in an at risk group to get vaccinated as soon as they are able.”
Just as important as travel vaccines
While 87% of people questioned say they get vaccinations against tropical diseases such as yellow fever, typhoid and hepatitis A before travelling abroad to exotic locations including Thailand or Africa, only half of under-65s who were advised to get the seasonal flu jab took it up last year.
“It is important that people get vaccinated when they go travelling” explained Professor David Salisbury, National Director of Immunisation, “however, it is just as important for people in at risk groups to get the flu jab.
“It is very important that people in these groups get vaccinated early in the flu season so they are protected before flu starts to circulate.
“About three-quarters of older people get their flu vaccine each year, but only around half of younger people in at risk groups get vaccinated. Seasonal flu is not the same as getting a cold - it can seriously affect your health.”
Who is eligible for the free flu jab?
People who can get the flu jab free of charge on the NHS include:
- pregnant women (in any stage of pregnancy)
- anyone with a long-term condition including diabetes, asthma, liver disease, kidney disease or heart or chest problems
- people undergoing medical treatment who may have a compromised immune system
- people with a neurological condition such as multiple sclerosis (MS) or cerebral palsy
- a frontline health or social care worker
- people living in a residential or nursing home
- a main carer for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if they fall ill
- anyone aged 65 or over
Read the press release