As winter approaches, so does the circulation of respiratory viruses, increasing the risk to liver patients of getting seriously ill.
However, taking up both the flu and COVID vaccines ahead of the colder months provides the best level of protection against severe illness.
If you are vaccinated and you catch flu or COVID-19, you are more likely to have milder symptoms and recover faster, cutting your risk of being hospitalised - and helping to minimise pressure on the NHS during busy winter months.
Sadly, only around half of 16-65 year olds with an underlying health condition took up the offer of a free flu jab last year.
For those with liver disease, the uptake was lower than average (44.6% of those eligible), even though it is one of the health conditions that significantly increases your risk of severe illness and hospitalisation.
This blog will explore the benefits of having both COVID and flu vaccines if you are eligible as a liver patient.
People in older age groups, very young children, pregnant women and those with certain health conditions are at risk of getting seriously ill with flu.
Liver patients fall into the highest at-risk group. Those with chronic liver disease are 48 times more likely to die of flu than those who are not in at-risk groups. This is compared to someone with diabetes whose risk is 5.8 times higher of death, or heart disease at 10.7 times higher. It is therefore crucially important you consider the benefits of being vaccinated.
Last winter, getting vaccinated against flu cut the risk of being hospitalised by around:
- 66 per cent in children
- 33 per cent in other adults with underlying health conditions
- 25 per cent in adults aged 65 years and older
If you had the flu vaccination last year, you will need another one this year as the flu viruses can change from one winter to the next. Flu vaccines are updated for each winter to give protection against the strains of flu that we expect to be circulating, based on the available data. For this reason, we strongly recommend that even if you were vaccinated last year, you should get vaccinated again this year.
Children with certain health conditions, including liver disease, even if well managed, are at higher risk of severe complications if they get flu. It is especially important that they are vaccinated.
They should have a flu vaccination every year from the age of six months onwards. Most will have the nasal spray vaccine, but it is not recommended for children under the age of 2 years. Children under 2, and those for whom the nasal spray is not suitable for medical reasons, will be offered a flu vaccine injection.
Liver patients who should get the flu vaccine include those with chronic liver disease, which includes cirrhosis, biliary atresia, and chronic hepatitis. If you are on medication that weakens your immune system, including if you have had a solid organ transplant, then you are less likely to be able to fight off an infection which is why it is important that you, and those you live with, have the flu vaccine.
COVID-19 booster vaccine
The COVID-19 vaccine will reduce the chance of you becoming severely unwell from COVID-19 this winter. It takes around 7 days for your body to build up some extra protection from the vaccine.
Data from last autumn’s COVID-19 programme showed that those who received a booster were around 53% less likely to be admitted to hospital with COVID-19 in the 2 to 4 weeks following vaccination, compared to those who did not receive a booster.
Like all medicines, no vaccine is completely effective – some people may still get COVID-19 despite having a vaccination, but any infection should be less severe.
As with the flu vaccine, liver patients eligible for the COVID vaccine include those with chronic liver disease, which includes cirrhosis, biliary atresia, and chronic hepatitis. If you are on medication that weakens your immune system, including if you have had a solid organ transplant, then it is important to also have the COVID vaccine.
Additionally, those with chronic conditions of the kidney, liver or digestive system, including those associated with congenital malformations of the organs, metabolic disorders and neoplasms, are also eligible for the COVID vaccine.
Please remember that if you are immunocompromised, the people you live with are also eligible for both COVID-19 and flu vaccines. Certain carers are also eligible for both vaccines.
If you are eligible, the NHS should have sent you a letter setting out your eligibility. However, if you think you are entitled to a vaccine and have not heard anything, please visit the NHS website to check or speak to your specialist or GP.
Please take action and get vaccinated as soon as possible, to get winter strong and make sure you can enjoy the winter ahead.
- NHS guidance: Keep Warm Keep Well
- UKSHA blog: Get Winter Strong: revisiting respiratory infection guidance for a safer season
- UKHSA blog: Get Winter Strong: why having a flu vaccination matters
- UKHSA blog: Should we be worried about the new COVID-19 variant?