Getting a flu vaccine is said to be more important this year, as flu season coincides with another rise in coronavirus cases. But a surge in demand has meant that big pharmacy chains have already had to limit supply to the most vulnerable.
People who are at higher risk from COVID-19 are also at greater risk of complications from the flu.
Making sure that those who are eligible for a free flu jab get the vaccine in the coming months will be important in the effort to protect vulnerable people and the NHS amid a second wave of coronavirus.
If you are eligible, you should be contacted by the NHS inviting you to get a free flu vaccine. But you don’t have to wait until you receive a letter to get vaccinated.
There are also options for those who aren’t eligible for a free jab, but they might be harder to access at the moment.
Find out what’s happening with flu vaccine shortages, whether you qualify for a free jab under this season’s extended eligibility list, and why flu protection is more important than ever this year.
Coronavirus: how to protect yourself and others – advice on what protective measures work and the things you don’t need to buy
Who is eligible for a free flu vaccination?
You are eligible for a free flu vaccination if any one of the following applies to you:
- you will be aged 65 or over by 31 March 2021
- you have a serious long-term health condition
- you’re pregnant
- you live in a residential care home
- you receive carer’s allowance, or you’re the main carer for an older or disabled person who may be at risk if you get sick.
For this year’s flu season, you will also be eligible if you:
- live with someone who’s at high risk from coronavirus
- are a frontline health or social care worker.
Primary age school children, and first year secondary school children will get a nasal spray vaccine or injection at school. Younger children can get a free vaccine at the GP.
The government has lowered the age cut-off for a free jab to 50. If you are in the 50-64 age bracket (55-64 in Scotland) and have an underlying health condition that makes you more vulnerable to flu, you should also get a jab as soon as possible.
Due to high demand, and in order to prioritise those who are most in need, over 50s who do not fit into this category will have to wait until closer to December.
Where can I get a private flu vaccination?
If you’re not eligible for a free NHS flu vaccination, you can pay for an appointment at a pharmacy. The cost of a private flu jab ranges from about £8 to about £20.
It may be harder at the moment to get an appointment for a private flu vaccination, and larger pharmacy chains including Boots, Lloyd’s, Well and Tesco have suspended online bookings while those who are eligible for free jabs get priority.
You can use the NHS Patient Access app to check for available private appointments near you, or ring around local pharmacies to see if they have availability.
Asda pharmacies appear to have availability at time of writing, and some Day Lewis pharmacies also have appointments.
Asda has launched a drive-through flu vaccination service in 13 of its stores.
Is there a flu vaccine shortage?
The government insists there are no shortages, and that everyone who wants to get a vaccine will be able to do so by December.
But unprecedented early demand does appear to have put a strain on pharmacies and GPs.
Boots has suspended bookings and walk-in appointments for flu shots for the under 65s. Lloyd’s, Well and Tesco pharmacies have all suspended online booking for the paid-for flu jab. When we checked, we were also unable to book an appointment on the Superdrug website.
Meanwhile, some GP surgeries are reporting waiting times of up to a month.
Flu vaccinations are being prioritised for those who need them most, so if you are in this group you should be able to access one. If you don’t fall into this category and are having trouble getting a vaccine, don’t panic – it should get easier to arrange one over the coming weeks.
If you’ve been told you are eligible for a flu vaccine but can’t have it now because the best vaccine for you is not currently available, the government website advises that you should follow the advice from your GP surgery or pharmacy and book an appointment at the next opportunity.
Is it safe to visit a GP or pharmacy for a flu jab?
If you’re able to get an appointment with your GP or at a pharmacy, be assured that GP surgeries and pharmacies have made changes to ensure it’s safe for patients to attend.
This includes staff wearing PPE, carrying out regular disinfection routines and practicing social distancing where possible.
If you’re in an at-risk group, getting a flu jab will help keep you safe.
Of course, if you are ill or have any symptoms of coronavirus, you should not visit your GP or a pharmacy in person.
Will the flu vaccination protect me from COVID-19?
No, the vaccine only provides a measure of protection against seasonal flu. It is completely separate from a COVID-19 vaccination, which isn’t yet available.
But according to research cited by the NHS, if you get flu and coronavirus at the same time, you’re more likely to be seriously ill. And people vulnerable to COVID-19 are also at risk of complications from flu. So it’s particularly important for those most at-risk to get vaccinated while coronavirus is still a present threat.
It is hoped that this will help ease pressure on the NHS during winter.
Flu vs coronavirus: how to recognise symptoms
The novel coronavirus shares some overlapping symptoms with the common cold and seasonal flu.
Symptoms vary from person to person, so it can be difficult to distinguish between this new respiratory disease and the ones we are more familiar with.
- Common cold: Symptoms usually come on gradually and it makes you feel unwell but not severely exhausted. It affects mainly your nose and throat: sneezing and a stuffy nose are commonly associated with a cold but not with COVID-19 or flu.
- Flu: Appears more quickly and affects more than just your nose and throat (commonly high fever, aches and pains, more severe exhaustion). You’re less likely to have the shortness of breath sometimes associated with COVID-19.
- COVID-19: Fever, a new, continuous dry cough and a sudden loss of or change in your sense of taste and smell are the most common symptoms of COVID-19.
If you have a high temperature, a new continuous cough, or a sudden loss of or change in your sense of taste and smell, you should self-isolate and try to book a coronavirus test.