As the weather gets colder, more of us naturally take to gathering more indoors, especially as the festive celebrations get underway. However, the reality is that with Covid-19 and flu around, the most vulnerable amongst us, including those with long term health conditions, are still at risk of getting seriously ill from these viruses.
There are many health conditions like diabetes, heart conditions and sickle cell anaemia that put people at increased risk of flu and Covid-19, which is why they are eligible for a free flu vaccine and a Covid-19 booster.
“I had Covid-19 on New Year’s Eve last year, and it was horrible. I had it for almost three weeks.” says Amanda Joseph, a Deputy Sister in Medicine, who has sickle cell. “I couldn’t work for over two months while I recovered, and I still have residual breathing problems and continue to wear a face shield instead of a mask for my own protection, as I find it too difficult to breathe in the standard face masks.”
Like many people with long term health conditions, Amanda is acutely aware she needs to support her immune system with these essential vaccines and is one of many millions across the UK who have had both their Covid-19 booster and flu jab this autumn / winter season.
Data shows that protection provided by Covid-19 vaccines decreases over time, so it is essential to keep it ‘topped up’ by having a Covid-19 booster this autumn/winter. The flu virus can change each year and can cause severe illness and hospitalisation for those most at risk, so those eligible also need a flu vaccine every year.
Unvaccinated people are at a much higher risk of being hospitalised with Covid-19 or flu. Vaccines are our best protection; however the Black community has one of the lowest uptake records for the Covid-19 booster and flu vaccine across the country.
This winter, the NHS is urging those with certain long term health conditions to get their Covid-19 booster and flu vaccine now. Evidence shows that, for example, those with diabetes are six times more likely to die from flu and are also at higher risk from Covid-19, whilst the immunosuppressed are 47 times more likely to die from flu and are also at high risk from Covid-19.
Dr Seun Bakare, GP and Clinical Lead for Urgent Care Medicine, who has been active within the community encouraging vaccine uptake, said: “There are a number of health conditions that are more common within the Black community like sickle cell anaemia that put them at higher risk of serious illness and even hospitalisation from Covid-19 and flu. That’s why it’s so important that we encourage people with these conditions to protect themselves by getting vaccinated.”
“I am a firm believer that prevention is better than cure. These vaccines offer the best protection from Covid-19 and flu, they have good safety records, and millions of people have had them globally. We owe it to each other as a community to do everything we can within our power to protect not just ourselves but each other, and these vaccines offer a way to do this”.
More mixing indoors and intergenerational living can also increase the spread of these viruses, especially amongst children. That’s why young children are eligible for the free flu nasal spray vaccine.
Lady Anne Welsh, a mother of two, who has sickle cell anaemia and is an active campaigner for those living with the condition, says, “I am a busy working mum, and I recently had both my Covid-19 booster and flu vaccine and my kids have also had their flu vaccines because we all want to continue doing all the things we love, with confidence and peace of mind.”
John James OBE, Chief Executive, Sickle Cell Society, said: “The evidence is clear – those with long term health conditions such as sickle cell disease are at greater risk of serious illness from flu and Covid-19, and so we support all endeavours to reduce the risks to our community. We strongly advise adults with sickle cell disease to follow the guidelines and get their flu vaccine and Covid-19 booster. And if in any doubt, please speak to your health care professional.”
To find out if you’re eligible for a free winter vaccine and to book yours, visit: www.nhs.uk/wintervaccinations