This article explores why it is particularly important for eligible members of the public and local Age UK staff to get a flu vaccine this Autumn, provide clarity about who can have a flu vaccine and how to access it, signpost to some myth-busting information, and encourage all relevant staff to consider having the flu vaccine.
Why is the flu vaccine particularly important this year?
A second wave of COVID-19. The UK Government is very concerned about the impact a ‘second wave’ of coronavirus infections could have on the NHS, particularly if this were to coincide with a peak in flu infections. There are concerns that the healthcare system could become overwhelmed and therefore unable to provide high quality care to all who need it. Flu caused over 1700 admissions to hospital in people aged 65 and over in 2018-19 and can have a severe impact on the health of older people, particularly people living with existing health conditions.
Protecting others. The coronavirus pandemic has shown how hard it is to prevent illnesses spreading to vulnerable people; media coverage of cases of coronavirus infections spreading through care homes in particular were devastating. Having a flu vaccine can help to prevent care workers from becoming infected and therefore help prevent the flu being spread to vulnerable people.
Staff absence. In 2018 an estimated 38.5 million workdays were lost for ‘minor illnesses’, which includes flu. Vaccinating staff at risk of becoming infected by flu because of close contact with vulnerable people is likely to help prevent staff illness and resulting sick leave.
Who can get the flu vaccine this Autumn/Winter?
Anyone who fits the below criteria can get their flu vaccine for free from their GP or a pharmacy this Autumn:
- people aged 65 years or over (including those becoming age 65 years by 31 March 2021)
- those aged from six months to less than 65 years of age, in a clinical risk group such as those with:
- chronic (long-term) respiratory disease, such as severe asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or bronchitis
- chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
- chronic kidney disease at stage three, four or five
- chronic liver disease
- chronic neurological disease, such as Parkinson’s disease or motor neurone disease,
- learning disability
- splenic dysfunction or asplenia
- a weakened immune system due to disease (such as HIV/AIDS) or treatment (such as cancer treatment)
- morbidly obese (defined as BMI of 40 and above)
- all pregnant women (including those women who become pregnant during the flu season)
- people who live in the same household as people who were asked to shield by their GP or clinician during the Coronavirus pandemic, or of immunocompromised individuals*
- people living in long-stay residential care homes or other long-stay care facilities
- those who are in receipt of a carer’s allowance, or who are the main carer of an older or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if the carer falls ill
At a later point in the Autumn or Winter, people aged 50-64 years may be also offered a free flu vaccine. It is worth noting that flu season tends to start in October, meaning this is when flu infections start to spread, so it may be worth vaccinating staff before this eligibility comes into effect, if it is possible to do so.
The list above is not exhaustive, and clinicians can decide to vaccinate someone against the flu if they deem it appropriate.
Local Age UK Staff
Local Age UK staff may be eligible for the free flu vaccine from their GP or pharmacist if they meet the criteria below, please be aware that staff may be asked for proof of employment. This year, healthcare professionals providing vaccines to care home residents will also be able to provide vaccines to care home staff, whereas previously staff have not been able to be vaccinated in these circumstances.
Health and social care staff who:
- Are employed by a registered residential care/nursing home or registered domiciliary care provider, who are directly involved in the care of vulnerable patients/clients
Note: As of this year, community pharmacies will be allowed to vaccinate both residential care and nursing home residents, and staff within the setting. GP practices are able to vaccinate residents and staff who are registered with the practice.
- Are employed by a voluntary managed hospice provider, who are directly involved in the care of vulnerable patients/clients who are at increased risk from exposure to influenza.
- Are employed through Direct Payments (personal budgets) and/or Personal Health Budgets, such as Personal Assistants, to deliver domiciliary care to patients and service users.
Can frontline workers who aren’t eligible for a free vaccine still get vaccinated?
In short, yes. Frontline workers could pay to get a flu vaccine privately from a pharmacy. Costs tend to be between £12 and £20.
The Department for Health and Social Care and Public Health England state that “All frontline health and social care workers should receive a vaccination this season.” It is the responsibility of employers to commission a service to vaccinate staff. So where possible, registered social care organisations should commission and organise for flu vaccine delivery to their frontline staff.
Clearly, many local Age UK staff may not fit the remit of ‘social care’ workers, or otherwise be eligible for the flu vaccine, but be providing frontline services to older people. It may be worth contacting local healthcare systems and your local authority to discuss vaccination of staff. In some regions an agreement has been reached for vaccinations to be provided to local Age UK staff at reduced or no cost to the local Age UK. There is a lot of emphasis on protecting vulnerable people against the flu this season and so new opportunities may open up for vaccination.
We would be interested to find out whether you have been able to get support with flu vaccinations for your staff or volunteers and any opportunities or barriers you have come across so if you get the chance do fill us in at HealthInfluencing@ageuk.org.uk
How to support staff with concerns about the flu vaccine
Misinformation around the flu vaccine is rife; because most people aren’t experts in vaccines and how they work, there is a gap in the knowledge which can easily be filled with rumours and myths.
The Age UK website flu page busts several myths and may be a handy place to signpost people to if they have questions. www.ageuk.org.uk/flu Do let us know if you hear a prolific myth that hasn’t been tackled on this page and we’ll see what we can find out! Email Healthinfluencing@ageuk.org.uk
Coronavirus vaccine It is difficult to say when a working vaccine for the coronavirus will become available, but a flu vaccine is important regardless. Any coronavirus vaccine will work differently to the flu vaccine and so is unlikely to have any impact on how the flu vaccine works. In the future we will hopefully be able to protect ourselves against both nasty illnesses.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic there has been a proliferation of misinformation across social media, and myths also spread through word of mouth. It is worth considering whether information has come for a reputable source, for example, a trustworthy news source.
Most people with a health condition will still be able to get the flu vaccine, so if a member of staff is unsure it may be worth them checking with their GP or clinician. Ultimately it is of course, an individual’s right to decide whether or not to have the flu vaccine, the best that can be done is to help ensure people have the facts to best protect themselves.