Flu is a highly infectious disease that can lead to extended periods of illness and can sometimes be fatal. People with long-term health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and liver disease are at greater risk of health difficulties associated with having the flu.
Being ill can make it harder for people with diabetes to control their blood glucose levels and can increase risks of dehydration or other acute health complications.
According to Public Health England, the number of people who are eligible for the flu vaccine has topped 25 million this year.
For the first time, the vaccine is being offered to all primary school children, as well as toddlers, pregnant women, people who have underlying health conditions and people aged 65 and above.
Professor Jonathan Van Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, said: “Flu is a potentially fatal illness and one that can spread quickly. Alongside frontline healthcare workers, tens of millions of over-65s, children and adults in at-risk groups will be offered the vaccine this year and I would urge them, and those that care for them, to ensure this free opportunity is taken up in the coming weeks.
“Having the vaccine is the single best way to protect against flu and will be an important step in preventing not only you, but your family, friends and colleagues from this debilitating illness.”
This year health experts have warned there is an even stronger strain of flu around, which resulted in a large increase in cases of flu in Australia in recent months.
Speaking to the HSJ publication earlier this year, Deputy Chief Executive at NHS Providers Saffron Cordery said: “The spike in flu we are seeing in Australia could be a worrying signal of what is to come for health and care services this winter.
“Planning for vaccinations is based on what happens in the southern hemisphere. Based on what we are seeing we will need to make sure plans are put in place early and as resilient as they can be.”
The Department of Health has taken the warning seriously in its extension of the free flu vaccine to be available to significantly more people than usual.
People who fall into the at-risk category can receive the free vaccine at their GP surgery. Those who are not eligible can pay for it privately at a chemist. Many chemists are providing the vaccine for under £15.