People living in north Cumbria with a learning disability and/or autism are being encouraged by doctors to get their flu vaccine.

Some people with a learning disability are more likely to catch the flu and become very ill as a result.

The vaccine is free for people with a learning disability if they are in a high risk health group, and they can ask at their GP surgery or local pharmacy. An alternative nose spray option may also be available.

Family carers and paid support workers may also be able to have the free flu vaccine to help protect the high risk group and they don’t pass the flu on.

People aged 16 or over who have a health condition that puts them at risk of getting seriously ill from Covid can also access the free Covid booster vaccine. If you’re eligible for this you'll be offered a booster dose at least 6 months after you had your second dose of the Covid vaccine. The NHS should contact you about this, but if you haven’t been contacted and think you’re eligible, you just need to visit: nhs.uk/covidvaccine

Dr Amanda Boardman is the Clinical Lead for Mental Health and Learning Disability services at NHS North Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group, and said:

“Flu can be very serious if you have a learning disability, because some people can get more poorly and can go on to develop more serious complications. You are also more at risk if you have an underlying health condition like diabetes or asthma.  I would encourage anyone in this group to make sure they have the vaccination as soon as possible as it’s the best way to avoid the flu.

“Having the vaccine sooner will give you protection over a longer period of time; it will also help reduce the chances of spreading the virus to your family and friends. Even if you had your jab last winter, you will need to have one again, because flu changes every year.

“If you are scared of needles then please tell the nurse as they may be able to give you the vaccine as a nose spray instead which is painless and still works to protect you.

“As nurses and doctors it’s important that we listen to you, your family and your carers, to make sure we get it right for you and that we speak in a way that can be understood. This includes making sure that you feel safe and comfortable when you have the vaccine.’’

If people with a learning disability and/or people who are autistic, or their families, need help there are also helplines available from organisations such as:

  • Mencap – (mencap.org.uk) the voice of learning disability
  • Contact – (contact.org.uk) for families with disabled children
  • Dimensions (dimensions-uk.org) supporting people with learning disabilities, autism, challenging behaviour and complex needs

Further support and information is available on their websites.

Further information is also available for people in easy read format here: https://northcumbriaccg.nhs.uk/flu

People with a learning disability might need extra planning and support to get their flu vaccine so where relevant the person’s family and support team should also be involved in the decision making process.

Other patients in at risk groups who are eligible to receive a free flu jab from their GP include:

  • everyone aged over 65
  • women who are pregnant
  • those aged six months to under 65 years in clinical risk groups including patients who suffer from a chronic illness, such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease  (COPD), kidney disease, hepatitis, Parkinsons, HIV and diabetes.
  • children aged two or three years old (on 31 August of current flu season), all primary school-aged children and children with a health condition that puts them at a greater risk of flu
  • those in long-stay residential care homes
  • carers

If you need medical advice you can also contact NHS 111 for free 24 hours a day, seven days a week or visit their website: 111.nhs.uk