Millions urged to get flu and Covid jabs as experts predict ‘difficult winter’

Zoe Tidman
Wednesday 28 September 2022 09:13 BST
Around 26 million people in England are eligible for the autumn Covid-19 booster vaccine (Peter Byrne/PA)
Around 26 million people in England are eligible for the autumn Covid-19 booster vaccine (Peter Byrne/PA) (PA Wire)

Millions have been urged to get their flu and Covid vaccines amid warnings a “twindemic” and difficult winter could lie ahead.

A devastating flu season is expected in the colder months, which has sparked fears it could combine with rising Covid numbers and overload the NHS.

Experts warned there could be a “serious risk to health” this year over flu levels, lower immunity due to reduced exposure and an increase in Covid with lots of variants circulating around.

Public health and NHS leaders are urging those eligible to get vaccinated against both illnesses to protect themselves and those around them.

Dr Thomas Waite, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said: “Vaccines have saved many lives over the years for both flu and more recently Covid.

“But we must not be complacent – infections will rise once again this winter, so it’s really important people get both their Covid and flu vaccines if eligible.”

NHS Providers said trust leaders were “bracing themselves” for the possible “twindemic”.

“The recent uptick in Covid-19 cases and hospital admissions is concerning and time will tell if this ripple turns into a full-blown wave,” Miriam Deakin, its director of policy and strategy, said.

“Covid-19 boosters and flu vaccines this autumn will reduce the risk of serious illness and we would urge everyone to have their jabs when they can.”

Under plans announced on Wednesday, around 33 million people in England will be eligible for a free flu vaccine this year, including all primary-age and some secondary-age children, who will be offered the nasal spray.

Covid vaccine boosters are being rolled out in autumn (PA Wire)

Around 26 million people in England are also eligible for the autumn Covid booster vaccine.

People who qualify for both jabs could be offered the flu and Covid jab at the same time if supply allows, though in different arms.

International surveillance shows the UK can expect the spread of H3N2 (a subtype of influenza type A), which is currently the most commonly detected flu virus worldwide.

It did circulate in the UK last winter but less mixing due to Covid means there is little immunity to it.

Officials at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) warned there will be lower levels of natural immunity to flu this year after a few winters when people socialised far less due to the Covid pandemic.

The UKHSA said that, in addition to a predicted flu wave, there are “early indications” that Covid rates are beginning to rise ahead of winter.

Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at UKHSA, said: “Flu and Covid-19 are unpredictable but there are strong indications we could be facing the threat of widely circulating flu, lower levels of natural immunity due to less exposure over the last three winters and an increase in Covid-19 circulating with lots of variants that can evade the immune response.

“This combination poses a serious risk to our health, particularly those in high-risk groups.”

“The H3N2 flu strain can cause particularly severe illness. If you are elderly or vulnerable because of other conditions you are at greater risk, so getting the flu jab is a sensible, potentially life-saving thing to do,” she said.

“Younger children are unlikely to have built up any natural immunity to flu and therefore it is particularly important they take the nasal spray vaccine this year.

“So, if you are offered a jab, please come forward to protect yourself and help reduce the burden on our health services.”

Steve Russell, NHS director for vaccinations and screening, said: “This winter could be the first time we see the effects of the so-called ‘twindemic’ with both Covid and flu in full circulation, so it is vital that those most susceptible to serious illness from these viruses come forward for vaccines in order to protect themselves and those around them.”

Those eligible for a flu jab can get a jab from their GP surgery or pharmacies offering an NHS vaccine service. GPs are also inviting children aged two and three years old for the nasal spray vaccine.

All those eligible for a booster can now book online apart from people aged 50 to 64 not in an at-risk group, who will be able to get one later this autumn.

Those eligible for the flu jab are:

  • People aged 50 and over
  • Those aged six months to 49 with a specified health condition
  • Secondary school pupils focusing on Years 7, 8 and 9 with any remaining vaccine offered to Years 10 and 11
  • Primary school-aged children
  • Pregnant women
  • Those in care homes
  • Frontline health and social care staff
  • Carers
  • Household contacts of people with weakened immune systems

Those who qualify for the autumn and winter Covid booster include:

  • Adults aged 50 and over
  • Those aged five to 49 with health conditions that put them at greater risk
  • Pregnant women
  • Care home workers and frontline health and social care workers
  • Carers
  • Household contacts of people with weakened immune systems.

Additional reporting by PA

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