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Briefing Notes regarding the flu vaccine 2020/21 for communities across Sheffield

 

General flu messages:

  • Flu kills over 11,000 people every year, on average.
  • Some years it’s much more and it hospitalises many more each year.
  • This is anything but an average year.
  • As covid-19 is likely to be circulating with flu, protecting those at high risk of flu, who are also those most vulnerable to hospitalisation as a result of covid-19, is vitally important.
  • We think of it as ‘just the flu’. But it’s a virus. It can cause severe complications, particularly amongst those at high risk. So when it comes to flu, there’s no ‘just’ about it.  
  • The flu virus spreads from person to person, even amongst those not showing any symptoms.
  • It can cause severe complications, particularly for high risk groups.
  • Don’t put off getting the flu vaccination. If you’re eligible get it now. It’s free because you need it.

What is the flu?

Flu is a severe viral infection of the respiratory tract (nose, mouth, throat, bronchial tubes and lungs). It is a highly infectious illness which spreads rapidly in communities and even people with mild or no symptoms can infect others. Flu is different to a common cold; symptoms of flu include a fever, chills, headache, aching muscles and joint pain and fatigue.

Flu will often get better on its own, but it can make some people seriously ill. It's important to get the flu vaccine if you're advised to.

The flu vaccine is a safe and effective vaccine. It's offered every year on the NHS to help protect people at risk of flu and its complications.

Where can I find information about the flu?

Information is available in a range of community languages at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/flu-vaccination-who-should-have-it-this-winter-and-why

Myth busting

 

Flu vaccine for adults

Which adults are eligible this year?

  • All ages with underlying/long term conditions
  • Pregnant women
  • Over 65s
  • Household members of people who had to shield during covid-19
  • People with learning disabilities
  • 50 – 64 year olds without underlying health conditions (if enough vaccines)  
  • How do I get my flu vaccine?
  • We are particularly keen to encourage people from minority ethnic communities, who fit into any of the categories above, to have their vaccine.

People in the above categories will be contacted by their GP practices to attend a flu clinic appointment. Due to covid-19 practices won’t be offering drop in clinics in the same way they usually do. Please don’t turn up to your practices for your vaccination unless your practice has given you a date and time to attend. If you normally receive a free flu vaccination and haven’t heard from your practice by the end of October, please contact your practices via telephone

You may also be able to get it from your local pharmacy – contact them for details.

Pregnant women will be offered the vaccination at pre-natal appointments, please let the nurse/midwife know if you have already had it at your GP practices.

I live with someone who received a shielding letter. Am I eligible for a vaccine this year?

This year, all household members living with someone who shielded (rather than just the main carer) are eligible for a flu vaccine. Please contact your GP surgery and explain that you live with someone who is in a high risk category.

I am pregnant. Why should I get the flu jab?

If you are pregnant you need the flu jab now. The flu jab is the safest way to help protect you and your baby against flu.

Pregnancy naturally weakens the body’s immune system and flu can cause serious complications for you and your baby. You may be less able to fight off infections, increasing the risk of becoming ill because of flu.

Flu immunisation can take place however many months pregnant you are and however fit and healthy you might feel. So ask your GP, pharmacist or midwife about the free flu jab now.

Can I have a flu jab if I’m not in an eligible group?

People who aren't eligible for a flu jab on the NHS can pay for a flu vaccination privately. The flu vaccine may be available from pharmacies or in supermarkets. It is provided on a private patient basis and you have to pay.

What is in the vaccine?

There are several types of injected flu vaccine. None of them contains live viruses so they are called inactivated vaccines.

If you're eligible for the flu vaccine on the NHS, you'll be offered one that's most effective for you, depending on your age:

  • adults aged 18 to 64 – there are different types, including low-egg and egg-free ones
  • adults aged 65 and over – the most common one contains an extra ingredient to help your immune system make a stronger response to the vaccine

If you have concerns about what is in the vaccine, please talk to your GP, pharmacists or practice nurse beforehand.

Is the vaccine halal?

Not all flu vaccines contain pork gelatine. There are two main types of vaccines available in the UK:

  1. Injectable flu vaccine (used mainly for adults), which does not contain pork gelatine;
  2. Nasal spray vaccine (called Fluenz Tetra, used in children aged 2-18), which does contain pork gelatine.

If a child is at high risk from one or more medical conditions or treatments and their parents don’t want them to have the nasal spray, the child will be offered an alternative flu vaccination by injection.

There is a limited supply of the alternative vaccine, which is less effective than the nasal spray for healthy children, so children at risk will be prioritised for this vaccine.

The Muslim Council of Britain are encouraging people to have their flu jab this year. Find out more on their website https://mcb.org.uk/resources/opvac/. They have created some materials to be used in Mosques etc.

Does smoking impact on the flu?

Smoking harms the immune system, making it harder to fight off infections, like coronavirus, and flu. If you smoke, you generally have an increased risk of contracting respiratory infection and of more severe symptoms once infected. Flu symptoms may, therefore, be more severe if you smoke.

Why have I been asked to wait to have a flu vaccine? 

Overall, there is enough flu vaccine for everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated before the flu season starts, which is usually in December. Flu vaccine is delivered to GP practices, pharmacies and other services in batches in the run-up to and over flu season. This year, early demand for flu vaccine has been higher than usual.

This has meant that while a lot of people have been able to get vaccinated, some people have not been able to get vaccinated straight away as some GP practices and pharmacies have used their early supplies of flu vaccine, due to the level of demand.

If you are eligible and haven’t been able to get your vaccination yet, you will still be able to have it before flu season starts.

Why some people are being offered the vaccine while others have to wait?

There are several types of flu vaccines available. You will be offered one that is recommended for you based on your age. This means some people will be offered a flu vaccine that is in stock while others, who need a different type of vaccine, may have to wait.

Wait for the right vaccine for you

Providers of flu vaccination services are required to offer the vaccine that is most effective for you. It is better to wait to get the right vaccine so that you get the most benefit from.

My GP practice has ran out of flu vaccines, can I get it elsewhere?

If you are eligible for the free flu vaccine, you can get it from your own GP practice or any pharmacy offering NHS flu vaccinations. They should be able to tell you when they next expect to be able to offer you a vaccine.

Pregnant women can ask their maternity provider for the free flu vaccine and some of those visiting hospitals, either as in- or out-patients, may also be offered the flu vaccine there.

Flu and people who live with learning disability, autism and severe mental illness

  • ALL people with a Learning Disability are eligible for a flu vaccination.
  • Living with severe mental illness or autism does not in itself make you at increased risk or eligible for a free flu vaccination – BUT people with these conditions are statistically more likely to have long term conditions that put them at risk of flu (such as COPD, diabetes, asthma, or heart disease).
  • Because of this it is estimated that about 65% of people living with severe mental illness will be eligible for a free flu vaccination.
  • GP surgeries have a legal obligation to make 'reasonable adjustments' to ensure that disabled people have equal access to health care including seasonal vaccination programmes. For example, if a person with learning disabilities is very scared of needles, they could have the flu nasal spray vaccine instead of an injection. The Doctor would need to know about and arrange this in advance of the appointment.
  • There are some great NHS England short videos for people with learning disabilities and their family about getting your flu vaccination: england.nhs.uk/learning-disabilities/improving-health/#flu
  • Equally Well has produced some helpful leaflets about the importance of people with severe mental illness and flu vaccinations: https://equallywell.co.uk/resources/flu-vaccination-and-mental-illness-resources/  
  • The main carer of an older or disabled person may also be eligible for the free flu vaccination.

Further information

  • The phrase severe mental illness (SMI) refers to people with psychological problems that are often so debilitating that their ability to engage in functional and occupational activities is severely impaired, so this includes people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, bipolar affective disorder and other psychoses.  It does not include people with ‘common mental health problems’ such as anxiety or mild/moderate depression.
  • A learning disability is “a reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities – for example household tasks, socialising or managing money – which affects someone for their whole life.  People with a learning disability tend to take longer to learn and may need support to develop new skills, understand complicated information and interact with other people”. You can find out more information at: https://www.mencap.org.uk/learning-disability-explained/what-learning-disability
  • Sheffield Autistic Society provides local information about autism https://sheffieldautisticsociety.org.uk/information/asd/   and difficulties autistic people may have accessing health care https://sheffieldautisticsociety.org.uk/information/resources/

Children’s flu vaccine

The children's flu vaccine is safe and effective. It's offered every year as a nasal spray to children to help protect them against flu.

Where do I find general information about the nasal spray?

For information about children’s flu vaccination, please read the leaflet available here: www.gov.uk/government/publications/flu-vaccination-leaflets-and-posters. The leaflet is available in a number of languages.

Which children are eligible for the nasal spray?

The nasal spray flu vaccine is free on the NHS for:

  • children aged 2 or 3 years on 31 August 2020 – born between 1 September 2016 and 31 August 2018
  • all primary school children (reception to year 6)
  • all year 7 in secondary school
  • children aged 2 to 17 years with long-term health conditions

Why should my child have the flu vaccination?

Flu can be a very unpleasant illness in children causing fever, stuffy nose, dry cough, sore throat, aching muscles and joints, and extreme tiredness. This can last several days or more.

Some children can get a very high fever, sometimes without the usual flu symptoms, and may need to go to hospital for treatment. Serious complications of flu include a painful ear infection, acute bronchitis, and pneumonia.

Having the vaccine will help protect your child from what can be a very nasty illness in children. Children under the age of five years have the highest rate of hospital admissions due to flu.

It will reduce the chance of others in your family, who could be at greater risk from flu, such as grandparents or those with long term health conditions, getting flu from your child. It can help you avoid having to take time off work or other activities because you are ill or need to look after your sick child.

Where do I get my child vaccinated?

Children aged 6 months – 17 years who have a long term health condition will be contacted by their GP practices to attend a flu clinic appointment.

Children aged 2-3 who don’t have a long term condition will also be invited to a flu clinic appointment at their GP practice.

School aged children will be vaccinated at school.

What about children who are home educated?

Children who are home educated will be offered the vaccine, provided they are in an eligible age group. Parents can obtain information about arrangements from their local NHS England Public Health Commissioning team – details here www.england.nhs.uk/about/regional-area-teams/.

What is in the nasal spray?

The nasal spray flu vaccine contains small amounts of weakened flu viruses. They do not cause flu in children.

As the main flu viruses can change each year, a new nasal spray vaccine has to be given each year.

The brand of nasal spray flu vaccine available in the UK is called Fluenz Tetra.

The nasal spray vaccine contains a highly processed form of pork gelatine, the gelatine helps to keep the vaccine viruses stable so that the vaccine provides the best protection against flu. If this is not suitable, speak to your child's nurse or doctor about your options. Some faith groups accept the use of porcine gelatine in medical products - the decision is, of course, up to you.

You can find a full list of ingredients in the Fluenz Tetra patient information leaflet.

Two to three-year olds who are not at risk, whose parents would prefer that they did not have the nasal spray, can also request the alternative vaccine from their GP. This would mean waiting until November and would depend upon there being sufficient stock of the alternative vaccine. GPs will not provide the alternative vaccine before November, because children at risk must be prioritised.

Other issues raised
 

There are concerns amongst some communities that the flu vaccination contains covid or is contaminated.

Please be reassured that the vaccination does not contain covid-19. The flu vaccination is offered each year and is a safe way to protect yourself from flu, the flu vaccination will not give you flu or covid-19. It will protect against most flu strains but it won’t protect against covid-19. As covid-19 is circulating with flu, protecting those at high risk of flu, who are also those most vulnerable to hospitalisation as a result of covid-19, is vitally important. If someone gets flu and covid-19 at the same time, research shows they’re more likely to be seriously ill. This is why it is important to have the flu vaccination if you are offered it by your GP or midwife.

If you have concerns about what is in the vaccine, please talk to your GP, pharmacists or practice nurse/midwife beforehand and they will discuss the ingredients of the vaccine with you.

Vaccination supply issues

Even if you are in one of the listed groups, you may be asked to wait to have your flu vaccine

Overall, there is enough flu vaccine for everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated before the flu season starts, which is usually in December. Flu vaccine is delivered to GP practices, pharmacies and other services in batches in the run-up to and over flu season. This year, early demand for flu vaccine has been higher than usual.

This has meant that while a lot of people have been able to get vaccinated, some people have not been able to get vaccinated straight away as some GP practices and pharmacies have used their early supplies of flu vaccine, due to the level of demand.

If you are eligible and haven’t been able to get your vaccination yet, you will still be able to have it before flu season starts.

You may be able to get your vaccine elsewhere if your GP practice or pharmacy has run out

If you are eligible for the free flu vaccine, you can get it from your own GP practice or any pharmacy offering NHS flu vaccinations. They should be able to tell you when they next expect to be able to offer you a vaccine.

Why some people are being offered the vaccine while others have to wait

There are several types of flu vaccines available. You will be offered one that is recommended for you based on your age. This means some people will be offered a flu vaccine that is in stock while others, who need a different type of vaccine, may have to wait.

Wait for the right vaccine for you

Providers of flu vaccination services are required to offer the vaccine that is most effective for you. It is better to wait to get the right vaccine so that you get the most benefit from it.

NHS Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group

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