People eligible for jabs are being being urged tot ake up the offer to protect themselves as the UK faces an uncertain winter amid the spread of both coronavirus and flu, a health chief has said.

UK Health Security Agency chief executive Dr Jenny Harries said this year’s flu could be “multi-strain” and reiterated that natural immunity is lower after last year’s lockdown saw much lower numbers affected than an average winter.

She said it is difficult to predict what will come with Covid-19 as immunity from vaccines wanes in some older people, but struck an optimistic tone by adding that she believes a winter lockdown is “highly unlikely”.

It is feared the NHS could be faced with huge pressures over the coming months as flu cases could surge alongside a rise in coronavirus infections.

The government has now launched the biggest flu programme in the NHS’s history, with more than 40 million people across the UK to be offered a free vaccine this winter.

Covid-19 booster jabs are also being rolled out at the same time, with people in some regions to be given both jabs on the same day.

Here’s what you need to know about who can get a free jab and how to book an appointment.

Who is eligible for a free flu jab?

The following groups of people are eligible to receive free flu in 2021 to 2022::

  • all children aged 2 to 15 (but not 16 years or older) on 31 August 2021
  • those aged six months to under 50 years in clinical risk groups
  • pregnant women
  • those aged 50 years and over
  • those in long-stay residential care homes
  • carers
  • close contacts of immunocompromised individuals
  • frontline health and social care staff employed by:
    • a registered residential care or nursing home
    • registered domiciliary care provider
    • a voluntary managed hospice provider
    • Direct Payment (personal budgets) and/or Personal Health Budgets, such as Personal Assistants.

Where can I get my flu jab?

Those who are eligible for the free NHS flu vaccine will be contacted by their GP surgery to book an appointment.

It is also possible to book the jab through a pharmacy, such as Boots or Lloyds, a hospital appointment, or a midwifery service if you are pregnant.

Bookings for a jab appointment can be made online at Boots and online at Lloyds.

Can I pay to get a flu jab?

Those who are not eligible for a free jab but would still like to get the vaccine can pay for it instead.

It can be paid for at pharmacies or some supermarkets at a cost of around £15.

However, health officials have said that vaccine supplies will be prioritised for those most at risk.

How effective is the flu vaccine?

The flu vaccine helps to protect against the main types of flu viruses, although there is still a chance that you could still be infected.

However, if you do fall ill with flu after vaccination, it is likely to be milder and not last as long.

The vaccine will also help to stop you spreading the virus to other people who may be more at risk of serious illness from flu.

It can take between 10 to 14 days for the jab to work.

What are the side effects?

Most people will only experience mild side effects from the flu vaccine and this will normally last for a day or two.

The most common symptoms include:

  • slightly raised temperature
  • muscle aches
  • a sore arm where the needle went in – this is more likely to happen with the vaccine for people aged 65 and over

Side effects can be eased by taking a painkiller, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, afterwards, and by regularly moving your arm to reduce aches and pains.

Some people, including pregnant women, should not take ibuprofen unless a doctor recommends it.