Has your parent had their flu jab yet? In all the talk about COVID, it’s easy to forget the dangers of seasonal flu. Older people have a much higher risk of suffering a severe illness from flu and this risk is increased by many chronic health problems.
The advice might seem obvious but national statistics for England show that around one quarter of people over 65 do not take up the offer of a free flu vaccine each year.
The flu virus is constantly evolving so we need a different vaccine each year - last year’s flu jab will not be effective this flu season.
Chronic health problems?
It’s not just age that increases the risk of flu related problems. If you or your parent suffer from any chronic medical problems then this will increase the risk of suffering a serious illness. Public Health England ranks chronic liver disease as carrying the highest risk and this is closely followed by chronic neurological disease (eg stroke) and chronic kidney disease. Chronic heart disease, respiratory disease and type-2 diabetes also carry risks but to a slightly lesser extent – you can read more here.
Immunodeficient or immunosuppressed?
Conditions, treatments or medicines, which affect the immune system will put someone at an increased risk from flu but might also affect whether the vaccine will be safe so it's important to get expert advice. Common conditions which suppress the immune system are those which affect the blood or bone marrow - leukaemia, myeloma, myelodysplasia. Common treatments which affect the immune system include chemotherapy, high dose corticosteroid tablets (eg prednisolone) and medicines which suppress inflammation in conditions like severe colitis, arthritis or psoriasis (eg methotrexate).
Flu vaccine safety?
Most people can safely have a flu vaccine but medical advice is recommended for people whose immune system might be compromised, people who have had a severe anaphylactic reaction to a previous vaccine and people who have severe egg allergy (vaccines with a low egg content are available).
Flu jabs should generally be avoided during any acute illness such as an infection (including COVID).
At GP surgeries or Pharmacies
Your parent’s GP will probably make contact to arrange a flu vaccine but if there are any problems you can also arrange an appointment at a local pharmacy. This might be easier as GP surgeries often have fixed flu clinic slots which might not be convenient.
You might also be eligible
As ever, don’t forget your own health. You can’t help anyone if you get ill. The NHS flu vaccination scheme is extended to anyone receiving a carers allowance or who is the main carer of an older or disabled person whose welfare maybe at risk if the carer falls ill.