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Public urged to get flu jabs amid concerns of flu and Covid cases rising this winter

29th Oct 2021
Public urged to get flu jabs amid concerns of flu and Covid cases rising this winter

(Photo credit: Dorot Schenk/Pixabay Commons)

The public is being urged to get flu vaccines this winter to increase protection in the community as we face the first winter where flu and Covid-19 will circulate together. For most of the last winter, people in the UK were under restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid, which had the added effect of also reducing other respiratory viruses and flu.

With restrictions lifted for this year, there are fears it could be a critical year for flu and respiratory viruses, as immunity in the general population will be lowered since fewer viruses had been circulating last year. As part of the winter plan to fight viruses, the Government has launched the largest flu programme in the NHS’s history, with over 35 million people in England eligible for a free vaccination.

In addition to flu jabs, the Government is continuing the Covid vaccination programme; many people in vulnerable groups have now been offered their booster Covid vaccination (third Covid jab) and vaccination of children aged 12 to 15 is also underway. As the Covid vaccine is still new, we are not sure how long immunity lasts.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said that evidence of waning immunity in those who had been vaccinated at the start of this year meant boosters could help keep people out of hospitals and reduce transmission of the virus.

Therefore, people in vulnerable groups such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions are being offered a third Covid vaccine to help boost immunity as we approach the winter months.

One concern is that if flu and Covid levels are high this winter, it raises the risk of people contracting both simultaneously –increasing the severity of illness and the likelihood of hospitalisation. A report in the summer from the Academy of Medical Sciences assessed how the triple threat of Coronavirus, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) might affect the NHS this winter.

It reported that hospital admissions and deaths from flu and RSV could be more than double those seen in a normal year, leading to 60,000 flu deaths and 40,000 children in hospitals with RSV.

Cases of flu and respiratory viruses typically increase in winter as the colder weather means we spend more time indoors, and do not have windows open thus reducing ventilation.

This increases the chances of winter viruses spreading between people.

All the focus has been on Covid in the last 18 months, but flu and other winter viruses can lead to over 1000 hospital admissions a day, and flu accounts for around 11,000 to 20,000 deaths each year in the UK alone. This year that number will be alongside Covid cases and could put pressure on the NHS. There are currently around 7000 people in hospital with Covid in the UK.

If we get a bad winter for flu and respiratory viruses, then it will put the NHS under greater strain. It is hoped that by increasing the number of flu jabs by making them available to more people, the number of flu cases can be kept down.

Flu and Covid are caused by two separate viruses, so Covid vaccines will not prevent flu, and similarly, flu vaccines will not prevent Covid.

 

Who is eligible for the free flu jab and Covid booster?

  • Over-50s (Covid booster and flu jab)
  • Younger people with health conditions (Covid booster and flu jab)
  • Health and care workers (Covid booster and flu jab)
  • Pregnant women (flu jab)
  • Two- to 16-year-olds (nasal flu jab)
  • At-risk infants aged six months to two years (flu jab), GP surgeries will contact patients eligible for the free NHS flu vaccine or eligible patients can book an appointment at a pharmacy.
  • People who qualify for the Coronavirus booster are being told to wait until they are contacted.

Anyone who is not eligible for a free flu jab can pay for it privately at many pharmacies, at a cost of about £15.

Rachel Kayani

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