People in Falkirk district with health conditions that make them more vulnerable to flu are being urged to get their vaccine as early as possible this winter to help protect themselves.

The flu vaccine is also offered free to those aged 65 and over, pregnant women, carers and healthcare workers.

Falkirk West MSP Michael Matheson said: “The flu vaccine is available now and the earlier people get it, the less likely they are to get flu, so I encourage everyone who is eligible to make an appointment with their GP practice as soon as possible.

“About two thirds of people in Scotland who are admitted to intensive care every year because of severe flu have a health condition such as chronic lung or heart disease, so it’s vital that people in at-risk categories get this extra protection.

“NHS Scotland also urges people with conditions such as diabetes and asthma to get the jab, regardless of their age or how fit and healthy they feel, because flu can hit them especially hard.

“The Scottish Government has given local health boards an additional £5million in winter resilience funding, but by getting the flu jab patients can help to further reduce the pressure on our hospitals during the busy winter months.”

Dr Gregor Smith, deputy chief medical officer for Scotland, added: “Over the last five years, around 500 deaths have occurred each winter which can be attributable, or were related, to flu.

“While we don’t know which flu strain will dominate in Scotland this season, the news that the southern hemisphere has experienced its worst flu outbreak in years is a timely reminder that everyone at risk should help protect themselves against flu this winter by taking up the offer of the flu vaccine.

“The vaccine provides the best defence, and getting it early it vital.”