Stay Well This Winter!

Winter Wellness resources at St John's Wood LibraryWe have blogged in the past about the ways that libraries are good for your health and wellbeing: increasing social and community cohesion with events and book groups, improving literacy and life skills, providing information about CV sessions, interview skills, job opportunities, housing issues and helping with digital inclusion with free online access through PCs and wifi, adult learning, children’s book sharing and of course a wide range of regular health sessions, talks and stalls for all ages – all these aspects of library life are good for our health.

We rely on our close partnership work with the NHS to guide us so that we can keep you informed about healthy lifestyle choices. At the moment Public Health England and more specifically our CCG, Central London Clinical Commissioning Group, are urging us to ‘Stay Well This Winter’.

Here are the answers to some questions you may have about one aspect of ‘Stay Well this Winter’ – the flu vaccine:

Stay Well This Winter  – the Flu Vaccine

The NHS has been encouraging everyone to Stay Well This Winter by taking a number of steps to minimise the risk of falling unwell during the colder months – you might have seen posters and information displayed in libraries throughout Westminster. There are also videos to raise awareness:

Importantly, free flu vaccines are available to a number of groups of people including older people aged over 65, children aged 2-4 and in school years one and two, pregnant women, people with long-term health conditions and carers. Most GPs and pharmacies will be providing free flu vaccines until the end of January or February so it is still not too late if you, a friend or a family member has not yet had yours. If you are eligible for a free flu vaccine your GP will be able to organise one for you, so it’s worth asking about.

To help understand why getting the flu vaccine is important we spoke to Dr Sarah Wallace, Public Health Registrar:

Why do we worry so much about preventing flu?

Flu is a strange illness.  People so often confuse it with a cold, but in reality they are very different.  Most of those who have had flu need no convincing to have the flu jab. You can be ill for up to a week, and it isn’t just the sniffles, shivering and sore throat that you have with your average cold. People will generally be in bed with high fevers, muscle aches, profound tiredness and other symptoms and will be completely unable to complete their normal daily activities.  This means time off work or school – it may be up to seven days before you feel better.

We particularly worry about certain groups of people getting the flu, who for various reasons have an immune system which can’t fight the flu as well as others can. These people include those aged 65 and over, people with other long-term medical conditions (such as asthma, heart disease and many others), pregnant women and young babies. Because these people may have a weaker immune system they are more likely to end up in hospital as a result of the flu, with complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis or rarely meningitis.  Sometimes flu can have incredibly severe consequences and Public Health England estimates that around 8,000 people die of flu every year in England and Wales.

Will having the vaccine guarantee that you won’t get flu?

The flu is a virus which is constantly changing and there are many strains; however each year the most common flu strains are different, and so the vaccine changes yearly.  Although the vaccination can’t stop all flu viruses, and it is not a 100% guarantee that you’ll be flu-free,if you do get flu after having the vaccination it’s likely to be milder and shorter-lived than it would otherwise have been.  There is also evidence to suggest that the flu jab can reduce your risk of having a stroke.

Can you get flu by having the flu vaccine?

There are lots of myths about the flu vaccine.  Contrary to many people’s belief the flu vaccination will not give you the flu.  Some people feel a bit tired and achy, but this is simply your immune system working.

How can you get a free flu vaccine if you think we might be eligible?

Free flu vaccines are for these eligible groups are available until the end of January; not only from GPs but in London many pharmacies are also providing the flu vaccination for adults, which may be more convenient for some.

What if a child doesn’t like injections – can they still be protected against the flu?

The flu vaccine for children is particularly easy – it is just a simple and painless nasal spray.  There have been many people asking why they should vaccinate their healthy child against the flu.  It not only helps to reduce the likelihood of them getting sick, but also helps to stop them spreading the flu to others in the community particularly people who are vulnerable.  Flu is generally spread in the community by children.  They might be visiting elderly or sick relatives over the holidays, or those with young brothers or sisters. 2015 is the first year that children in school years one and two across the country are included in the programme.

Why is it important people in Westminster receive the flu vaccine?

Unfortunately we know that historically in Westminster flu vaccination uptake has been low, below the London average.  I urge those who are eligible for a flu vaccination to make an appointment with your GP today, or if you are over 18 visit your local pharmacy.  More information on how to Stay Well This Winter can be found at nhs.uk/staywell.  The flu vaccination will be available at most GPs and pharmacies until the end of January or February, please don’t put it off.

Your local library and children’s libraries will have hard copy Stay Well this Winter and Flu Vaccination leaflets.

[Dr Sarah Wallace, Public Health Registrar;
Kate Gielgud, Health Information Coordinator]

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