Denise and Linda Nolan on why flu jabs are more important than ever

For those in at-risk groups, as well as people living with them, getting vaccinated against flu could be life-saving.

Wednesday, 9th December 2020, 6:10 pm
Updated Wednesday, 9th December 2020, 6:15 pm

It might be just over two months since Linda Nolan ‘rang the bell’ to mark the end of her chemotherapy for secondary breast cancer, but right now she’s joining forces with her sister on another health campaign.

Linda and Denise Nolan, who enjoyed huge success in the Seventies and early-Eighties singing with fellow family members, are highlighting the importance of getting a flu jab – particularly for people who are more vulnerable to infections like flu or Covid-19, or who live with someone who is.

When Linda, 61, discovered she had cancer for the third time in June – she was first diagnosed with breast cancer back in 2006 – Denise immediately asked her to move in with her and her partner, Tom Anderson.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Denise and Linda Nolan

“There was no hesitation,” admits Linda. “It was really kind and I would have been lost without her.”

For Denise, it was a totally natural offer. “It’s just family,” she says. “You do it because you love them.”

Flu jabs help protect vulnerable and at-risk groups

Because of the cancer and chemo, a flu jab was vital for Linda. Living together meant that as ‘flu season’ approached, Denise was also eligible for a free jab.

“Because Linda’s isolating and – I don’t like to call myself her carer – because we live together, I was told I’d get the jab free, because you do if you’re looking after somebody that’s isolating,” explains Denise, 68. “It’s a no-brainer. The thought of giving flu to Linda is incomprehensible, and my chap has Parkinson’s so he’s vulnerable too. Any disease like the flu, if they got it from me, I’d be absolutely devastated.”

Flu can be very serious

Ever-bubbly Linda jokes that her older sister won’t wear a nurse’s uniform when she’s caring for her. But, becoming serious for a moment, she stresses: “If I get the flu, I’d probably die. The way things are at the moment, I could get Covid as well and then I wouldn’t stand a chance, because my immune system has been completely depleted. It’s a really scary thing, and when I got the letter to isolate it became so real.”

The sisters, who live in their home town of Blackpool – Linda’s house is only a few doors down from Denise and a couple of streets away from Maureen – say people needn’t be scared of going to the GP surgery or pharmacy for their jab, as “they’re the safest places to be at the moment because they have to be”.

Linda stresses: “It’s so safe, and it’s much safer than getting flu or pneumonia.”

Denise adds: “For a couple of seconds of discomfort – although it’s not really discomfort – you can prevent some people being very, very ill or even dying. We’ve had enough of fatalities this year, and our hearts go out to all those people who’ve lost family in this awful pandemic, but it doesn’t have to be that way with flu, which can be prevented.”

‘I feel good’

Right now, Linda – who’s currently appearing with her sisters in At Home With The Nolans (Tuesdays, Quest Red) – is awaiting the results of a scan that was done after her chemotherapy ended, and happily says: “I feel good at the moment.”

She had the chemo during England’s first national lockdown, at the same time as her sister Anne, 70, who discovered her own breast cancer had returned just days before Linda found out about her cancer recurrence.

Their other sister Bernie died from breast cancer in 2013 aged just 52, and while tests have shown the sisters don’t have the infamous BRCA1 & 2 ‘breast cancer genes’, Linda says: “We were told by one of the professors it’s not just bad luck that three of us have got it – there will be a rogue gene somewhere. Maureen, Denise and Coleen have seen somebody about another test; they’re looking into all of that, trying to find out why we get it.”

Until they know more, Denise says: “You just have to be vigilant, checking yourself regularly. And it’s important to look in the mirror as well, because that’s how Bernie found hers – one of her breasts was a funny shape, it had dimpling or something, it wasn’t a lump she found initially.”

The flu jab: A doctor’s view

GP Dr Sarah Jarvis says it’s vital people don’t become complacent about flu, just because the current focus is on COVID-19.

“While it’s possible the number of cases of flu may be lower than usual this year because of social distancing, flu definitely hasn’t gone away,” Jarvis stresses. “In fact, it’s more important than ever this year to get vaccinated for flu. Recent research shows the risk of death more than doubles for people who test positive for both flu and Covid-19, compared to those with Covid-19 alone.

“Both seasonal influenza and Covid-19 can cause serious illness and death. They can both spread easily and infect many people. Good respiratory hygiene, hand hygiene and distancing should help reduce the spread of both infections.”

She adds that while any relaxation of pandemic restrictions over Christmas will give families the opportunity to come together, “there’s a real risk this could lead to a rise in cases of flu as well as Covid-19.

“To reduce the risk, it’s essential as many people as possible should be protected against flu. Having the flu vaccination doesn’t just protect you: it protects vulnerable people you’re in contact with too.”

To find out if you’re eligible for a free flu vaccine, contact your GP or pharmacist, or visit www.nhs.uk/fluvaccine.

It is thanks to our loyal readers that we can continue to provide the trusted news, analysis and insight that matters to you. For unlimited access to our unrivalled local reporting, you can take out a subscription here and help support the work of our dedicated team of reporters.