People aged 65 and over in Wales are being urged to get their free NHS flu vaccine. Vaccination is the best way to protect against this potentially serious illness.

Public Health Wales is reminding older people that they are more at risk of complications if they catch influenza (flu) than the general population. Flu can be a serious illness, leading to complications like pneumonia, and every year people in Wales end up in hospital or intensive care units with flu. What’s more, last year, more than half of all confirmed cases of influenza in hospitals in Wales were in people aged 65 and older.

Dr Anthony Gibson, consultant physician and clinical director medicine and A & E at Cwm Taf University Health Board said: “Don’t underestimate how serious influenza can be, especially if you have other long term health conditions.

“If you are eligible for a free NHS flu jab, please ensure you have it.”

Latest vaccine uptake data shows that many older people in Wales – just over half of those aged 65 and over – have already had their flu vaccine this year. But those who haven’t had the vaccine yet this winter remain at risk, and are encouraged to get vaccinated as soon as possible for the best protection.

Angharad Phillips of national charity Age Cymru urges people to listen to the experts, and added: “Influenza is still a very real health risk to us all, but especially for those of us who are older. This is why the NHS funds people aged 65 and older to have a flu vaccination every year.

“As we age our immune system becomes less efficient at protecting us and so we should take every precaution we can against a disease that can prove fatal to older people.

“Flu vaccine is the best protection we currently have against flu, it helps protect against catching flu and also against spreading flu to others.

“At Age Cymru we promote uptake of the free flu vaccine every year as part of our own winter health and resilience campaign. We ask that people ‘Spread The Warmth’ to older people and not the flu! Get protected and protect others at the same time.”

Most NHS flu vaccines are given in GP surgeries, but the vaccination is also widely available for adults in many community pharmacies across Wales.

Former Welsh rugby star Phil Bennett echoes the professionals’ calls: “If you’re 65 or over like me, I would encourage you to have your flu vaccination as soon as possible.

“It’s very straightforward, takes a few minutes but lasts for months and gives you important protection from a potentially debilitating illness.

“Most GP surgeries hold regular flu clinics so it’s just a matter of checking when the clinics are and getting it done – it couldn’t be easier.”

The influenza virus is spread via droplets which are sprayed into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Direct contact with contaminated hands or surfaces can also spread infection. The virus can spread rapidly, especially in closed communities such as hospitals, residential homes and schools.

Dr Richard Roberts, Head of the Vaccine Preventable Disease Programme at Public Health Wales, said: “Each year influenza viruses circulate, causing many people to be ill and some to face life-threatening situations. Last year intensive care units in Wales treated 74 patients with confirmed influenza.

“We know from data published earlier this year that last season the flu vaccine worked reasonably well in children, moderately well for adults in risk groups but did not offer significant protection in older people.  Each season, experts at the World Health Organisation recommend flu vaccine types they think will work best for that season.  However, until the flu virus starts to circulate widely each winter, it’s not possible to know with certainty which flu strains will cause most illness, or predict vaccine effectiveness.  What’s more, even if a flu vaccine was effective last season, the vaccine this season may be different again to match the changing flu virus.  Therefore, to get the best protection from flu, it’s recommended if you are aged 65 or over to have a flu vaccine each year.

“Influenza can be serious, particularly in those who are a bit older. Getting vaccinated offers the best protection, so make sure it is top of your to-do list this winter. Don’t miss out!”

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