The Northern Echo hosted a Q&A with NHS officials regarding the vaccination rollout for both Covid-19 and flu.

Professor Neil Watson, who is leading the Covid vaccination programme for the North East and North Cumbria, and public health consultant at Sunderland City Council Lorraine Hughes answered questions and debunked misinformation.

We asked our readers to submit their burning questions about vaccines for both flu and Covid and we were inundated with responses.

We also had our own questions that we put to the experts and here is how it went.

The Northern Echo: Professor Neil Watson, Lorraine Hughes, and Aja DoddProfessor Neil Watson, Lorraine Hughes, and Aja Dodd (Image: StreamYard/Aja Dodd)

How might pressures on the NHS this winter help to be alleviated by those who are eligible for their vaccinations to come forward when notified?

Prof Neil Watson said: “We know that the NHS is having to deal with a backlog which has of course been created by the pandemic, so all of that tells us about the importance of us all doing what we can to keep well, and we do that in a variety of ways but this evening the bit that we really want to impress upon is the importance of having their Covid and their flu vaccine in preparation for winter.”

Lorraine Hughes said: “By having your vaccines it will stop people from getting seriously ill and having to use healthcare services so that’s how everyone can play their part and not to pass Covid or flu onto others who might be vulnerable.”

Why is it so important for children to get vaccinated against flu?

Lorraine Hughes said: “Children aged two and over are invited to have their flu vaccine and it’s also offered in schools from primary age to Year 9 secondary school children as well and that’s because we know that younger children are at risk of getting seriously ill with flu and can also pass onto others who are vulnerable.”

The Northern Echo: Lorraine Hughes, consultant in Public Health for Sunderland City CouncilLorraine Hughes, consultant in Public Health for Sunderland City Council (Image: StreamYard/Aja Dodd)

How much of a risk is flu to the average healthy person?

Lorraine Hughes said: “Of course, anyone can catch flu, it doesn’t mean you won’t catch it, it just means you won’t be seriously ill. You can still be ill enough so that you can’t go to work for example, or you might struggle to carry out caring or childcare responsibilities, it’s enough to disrupt your life. If you’re invited to come forward for your flu vaccination, please do come forward because you might not be seriously ill with it but you can pass it on to someone else unknowingly and they could get very ill.”

We have fewer vaccination centre now than we did in 2021, what is your advice for those living in rural communities who get notified that it’s time for their Covid/flu vaccination but the vaccination centre is not easily accessible to them?

Prof Neil Watson said: “We’re vaccinating over a period of months, and whilst you may not be able to get a slot in the vaccination centre where you had been called whether through your GP or pharmacy through the National Booking Service that very day, there will be appointments coming through so we advise people to keep checking back because we’ve got a number of weeks in which we’re doing the programme. We’ve also got lots of other little twists and tricks that are in place in local communities so, for example, there are some Age Concern buses that have been used in the Tyne Valley.

“We want to make it as easy as we can for people but of course we can’t put a vaccination centre in every single village.”

Lorraine Hughes said: “If people are unsure where to go, there’s information on council websites and we keep that up-to-date every week about where the latest clinic sessions are and where they can go.”

The Northern Echo: Professor Neil Watson, leading the Covid vaccination programme for the North East and North CumbriaProfessor Neil Watson, leading the Covid vaccination programme for the North East and North Cumbria (Image: StreamYard/Aja Dodd)

What are the most common side effects of the Covid vaccine and how can people tackle these?  

Prof Neil Watson said: “Everyone is very different in this regard so just because you’re having a vaccine doesn’t mean you’ll react in exactly the same way as your friend did. It’s quite common to get soreness on the arm at the injection site. Equally, some years you won’t feel a thing, so it’s not consistent, even in one individual. You may feel a bit tired and flu-like for 24 hours but it’s generally mild.

“I would advise everybody to pre-dose with paracetamol half an hour to an hour before the vaccination and I’ll keep dosing with paracetamol for 24 hours immediately afterwards, and that should allow you to carry on as normal.”

Why is it so important pregnant women get vaccinated against Covid and flu?

Lorraine Hughes said: “Pregnant women are offered Covid and flu vaccines. It’s safe for them to have both vaccines at the same time. If they’ve got any concerns or questions, it’s really important that rather than deciding not to get vaccinated because of those questions to speak to their midwife or GP.

“There have been serious complications for the mother and her baby when she has caught Covid or flu.”

Is it safe to have both vaccinations simultaneously and are there any risks associated with that?

Lorraine Hughes said: “It’s absolutely safe to get both vaccinations together, but I’d like to reinforce that we don’t want people waiting to have both together. If it’s not possible to get them both together, and I know that might be more convenient for some people, but we really don’t want anyone delaying getting either of the vaccines. Get both vaccines as soon as soon as you can.”

What is your reaction when you hear people talk about the pandemic as if it’s all in the past and no longer an issue?

Lorraine Hughes said: “I can understand why people want to feel and think like that. We never thought we would see anything like that and we don’t want to see anything like that again. It had an impact on everybody, and I think everybody is enjoying having their usual routines. We are in a very different place now thankfully but I have to say that is primarily down to the vaccinations and people following the guidance.”

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