Covid and flu jabs brought forward this autumn

As a highly mutated Covid variant spreads around the world, precautions to protect the public are being taken.

Plans for Covid and flu vaccinations this autumn have been brought forward after a new coronavirus variant was spotted in many countries, including the UK.

To help protect the most vulnerable, jabs will now be available from September 11 in England and Wales, where they had previously been scheduled to be rolled out in early October, and from September 4 in Scotland.

The new BA.2.86 Covid variant is not yet designated as a variant of concern, but it has a large number of mutations compared with previous variants. It has already been identified in Scotland.

Covid and flu vaccinationCredit: Shutterstock

Who can get the Covid jab, and when

Under the revised plans, people in care homes, the clinically vulnerable, those aged 65 and over, and health and social care staff should be able to have a Covid vaccine in September or October. Where possible, the annual flu jab will be made available to the same groups at the same time.

“This precautionary measure to bring forward the autumn programme will ensure these people have protection against any potential wave this winter,” said Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

The Covid jab will also be available to people aged 12 to 64 who are household contacts of people who are immunosuppressed and so less able to fight off infections.

However, healthy under-65s in England won’t be offered a Covid-19 booster or free flu jab this autumn.

All over-50s were invited for a Covid booster last autumn – and they could also get a free flu jab. But this year the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JVCI) has announced its advice to only offer Covid vaccines on the NHS to higher-risk groups, such as care home residents, people classed as clinically at risk, those aged over 65, and frontline health and social care workers.

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have been following the same policies on Covid jabs, but if you’re in Scotland, over-50s will still be offered the flu vaccine. And in Scotland, the programme begins on September 4.

How effective are jabs?

Last year’s autumn Covid booster programme had a high take-up rate, with 73.2% of people aged 65 to 70 and 83.7% of over-80s coming forward to be vaccinated. Data from the JCVI showed that people who received a booster were 53% less likely to be admitted to hospital with Covid-19 in the two to four weeks following vaccination.

Covid vaccines are not available privately in the UK, but could become available next year, with the UKHSA saying it has “no blanket restrictions” on the private sale of vaccines.

The NHS will contact you if you’re eligible and you’ll then be able to book online or through a local service, such as your GP surgery or a walk-in vaccination site.

Professor Wei Shen Lim, Chair of Covid-19 immunisation on the JCVI, said: “The autumn booster programme will continue to focus on those at greatest risk of getting seriously ill. These persons will benefit the most from a booster vaccination.

“It is important that everyone who is eligible takes up a booster this autumn, helping to prevent them from hospitalisations and deaths arising from the virus over the winter months.”

An NHS spokesperson said: “The NHS is working to ensure a growing number of vaccine sites across England offer both flu and Covid-19 vaccines in the same visit, to make it as convenient as possible for people to get life-saving protection from both viruses ahead of winter.”

Am I eligible for a Covid booster?

Yes, if you:

Are aged 65 or over

Live in a care home for older adults

Are in a clinical risk group

Work in frontline health and social care

Source: JCVI

Can I still get a flu jab?

Last year, anyone aged 50 and over was offered a free flu jab – and you may have received it along with your Covid booster.

This year, it’s not routinely offered to people aged under the age of 65 on the NHS, but you can pay for it at your local pharmacy and some supermarkets.

It’s better to have your flu vaccine in the autumn before it starts circulating, but you can still get it later on in the winter. Even if you had a flu jab last year, you’ll benefit from another this year as the vaccine is updated each winter to protect against new strains.

Nick Daines, pharmacist at Lifestyle Pharmacy, Bath told Saga Exceptional: “Flu can be a very debilitating condition, with potentially serious health complications, including pneumonia. Those most at risk are those over 65 and those with underlying health issues, who will still be offered free NHS flu vaccination, but if there is a flu epidemic this season, it could spread rapidly amongst those in other age groups, even if otherwise well.

“Therefore, it is absolutely still a good idea to protect oneself against flu. Flu vaccines are safe and effective, and available privately to those who fall outside NHS eligibility. Flu vaccines are best received in the autumn to ensure adequate protection for the main flu season of December to February.”

Where can I get my flu jab?

If you’re not in one of the eligible groups, you can pay for your flu vaccine at your local pharmacy. You can book your appointment online or by calling in – and many pharmacies offer walk-in appointments. Here are some options:

Lloyds Pharmacy: £12

Bookings open soon

Asda: £12

Book now for appointments starting towards the end of September

Tesco: £13

Book now for appointments in September

Well Pharmacy £17.99

Book now for appointments in September

Boots: £19.95 (£24.95 in Jersey)

Book now for appointments in September

Superdrug launches its flu vaccination service in September

Flu jabs are free for these groups:

People aged 65 and over

Those in clinical risk groups

People who live in care homes or who get carer’s allowance

Close contacts of immunocompromised people

Frontline health and social care workers, including those who work in hospices and care homes

Pregnant women and primary school children will also be offered the flu vaccine.

Hannah Verdier

Written by Hannah Verdier

Updated:

Hannah Verdier writes about fitness, health, relationships, podcasts, TV and the joy of reinventing yourself at 50 and beyond. She’s a graduate of teenage music bible Smash Hits and has a side hustle as a fitness trainer who shows people who hated PE at school how to love exercise.

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