Covid-19: Free flu jabs offered to all over 50s in 'winter like no other'

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People aged 50-64 are being offered free flu jabs as part of an expanded winter vaccine scheme to tackle the "twin threats" of flu and Covid-19.

The group is being added to a list of people who are already eligible for a flu jab in England, such as those over 65 and NHS and social care workers.

Thirty million people are being offered the vaccine in England's largest flu-immunisation programme to date.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was a winter "like no other".

"We have to worry about the twin threats of flu and Covid-19," he said, adding that the coronavirus pandemic meant it was "more important than ever" that people get their flu jabs.

A big flu season combined with coronavirus could overwhelm hospitals - especially if many NHS or care-home staff are off sick with flu.

And there is some evidence that a double infection, of Covid-19 and flu together, could be more deadly than getting either single virus.

All over 50s will be able to have the free vaccine from 1 December.

Flu - or influenza - is a very common, highly infectious disease, caused by a virus.

It can be deadly - particularly for older adults, very young children and people with underlying health conditions.

The Department of Health said GPs, NHS trusts and pharmacists can order more doses of the flu vaccine, to accommodate the extra age group, from a centrally-secured government supply.

The other groups of people already eligible for a free flu jab in England are:

Those aged 65 or overPregnant womenPeople with some medical conditions, including diabetes, heart failure and asthmaNHS and social care workersAll children up to Year 7People who were required to shield from coronavirus - and anyone they live with

As health is a devolved issue, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are running separate flu vaccination campaigns.

England's deputy chief medical officer, Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, called on everyone who is eligible for the flu vaccine "to book their appointments as soon as they can".

"Influenza vaccination is a critical tool, this and every winter, to prevent severe illnesses and potential hospitalisations for thousands of people," he added.

media captionA cold, flu or coronavirus - which one do I have?

It comes after some promising developments in the race to find vaccines to end the coronavirus pandemic.

The Department of Health said the NHS was "well-equipped" to offer both the flu vaccine and any future Covid-19 vaccines, and people would be able to receive the two vaccinations "in parallel".

In the autumn, some pharmacists and GP surgeries had to limit flu jabs to the most at-risk groups due to increased demand.

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