Different flu vaccines will be offered on the Welsh NHS this winter depending on your age, it has been revealed.
But health chiefs have warned that some age groups may face delays in getting vaccinated as they wait for the most effective treatment to become available.
The annual NHS Wales Beat Flu campaign, which encourages everyone eligible for flu jab or nasal spray to get protected, was launched on Wednesday.
Here’s everything you need to know about the vaccination programme.
How do I know if I have the flu?
Flu is a respiratory illness caused by a virus that affects the lungs and airways.
Symptoms generally come on suddenly and can include fever, chills, headache, cough, body aches, and fatigue.
It is spread via droplets which are sprayed into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Direct contact with contaminated hands or surfaces can also spread infection. It can spread rapidly, especially in closed communities such as hospitals, residential homes and schools.
Who is eligible for a free vaccination this winter?
Pregnant women, people with long-term health conditions, and everyone aged 65 and older are all eligible for a free vaccine on the Welsh NHS.
This includes people with:
- Chest problems (including moderate to severe asthma)
- Diabetes (including diet controlled)
- Heart problems
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Neurological disease
- Stroke or mini stroke
- Suppressed immune system (maybe due to cancer treatment)
No spleen (or a spleen that doesn’t work very well)
For the first time all primary school children are now eligible for a free nasal spray flu vaccine as well as children aged two and three years old on August 31.
The vaccine is also being offered to staff working in residential care and nursing homes this winter who have regular client contact.
In addition carers, volunteers providing care or providing first aid in organised public events, as well as community first responders, are entitled to the vaccine.
And adults who are morbidly obese – with a body mass index of 40 or more – can also have a jab for free.
Those not eligible for a free NHS vaccine – such as healthy adults – can pay for one at their local pharmacy for between £8 and £10.
Why are different vaccines being offered to different age groups?
To improve effectiveness different flu vaccines recommended for different age groups are being introduced this year.
There are four different types in total – one for children (nasal spray), two for adults under 65 years old, and one for those aged 65 and above.
Dr Richard Roberts, head of the vaccine preventable disease programme at Public Health Wales, said the new vaccine for over-65s offers additional protection for the elderly.
He said the jab will contain a substance called adjuvant which helps to boost the immune system – although the soreness after the vaccine could increase.
But Public Health Wales has warned that people may not be able to get their recommended vaccine straight away.
A spokeswoman said: “Delivery of supplies of certain flu vaccines to GP practices and community pharmacies will be staggered between September and November.
“Some people may be asked to wait until the most effective vaccine for them is available. It’s planned that everyone will be offered vaccination before mid-December when flu typically starts to circulate.
What was the flu season like last winter?
Flu was close to reaching “very high intensity” across Wales last winter, with the highest prevalence coming in the middle of January 2018.
Reported cases of flu by Welsh GPs during winter 2017-18
Public Health Wales
It meant Wales experienced its wost flu outbreak since 2010-11.
Despite more than 820,000 flu vaccines being given by NHS Wales last year, 2,680 patients were diagnosed with flu in hospitals – 192 of which needed to be admitted to intensive care.
There were hundreds of so-called “excess deaths” in Wales last winter, many of which could have been caused by the bad flu outbreak.
Despite the public campaigns, uptake of the free flu vaccination in “at-risk” groups between the ages of six months and 64 years old was under half (48.5%) last winter.
And vaccine uptake in those aged 65 and over was 68.8% in Wales.
Which strain of flu would prove the most problematic?
According to Dr Roberts, Wales has vaccines which are reasonably effective in tackling the A(H1) and B vaccines.
But he says there could be trouble if the A(H3) strain is widely reported as the available vaccines have lower effectiveness.
What do the experts say?
Dr Roberts said: “Each year new flu viruses circulate, causing many people to be ill and some to face life-threatening complications.
“And flu vaccines are changed each year to try to match the flu viruses circulating in order to give the best protection.
“Flu places an additional pressure on the health service at a busy time of year.
“People with chronic conditions or compromised immune systems are over 10 times more likely to suffer severe outcomes from influenza and we want to see even more people protected this year.”
While most NHS flu vaccines are given in GP surgeries it is also available for adults in many community pharmacies across Wales.
Mark Griffiths, chairman of Community Pharmacy Wales, said: “Community pharmacies across Wales are playing an increasing role in helping to vaccinate vulnerable people against flu in a convenient setting.
“We have for several years provided vaccines to many risk groups such as pregnant women and those with chronic long-term conditions.
“This year for the first time we will also be offering NHS flu vaccines without charge to staff working in adult residential care and nursing homes with regular client contact.
“This is a great example of community pharmacies working with Welsh Government and other primary care colleagues to help improve the health of people in Wales.”
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