Covid isn’t the only virus circulating this winter – vaccines are the best way to protect the NHS

While the influenza and Covid-19 booster vaccination campaigns are already in progress, World Pneumonia Day reminds us that other viruses also pose a public health threat

Susan Rienow
Friday 12 November 2021 11:00
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<p>‘We all have a duty to be aware of individual vaccine eligibility and take action to protect ourselves, our communities and our NHS’ </p>

‘We all have a duty to be aware of individual vaccine eligibility and take action to protect ourselves, our communities and our NHS’

As we fast approach winter, planning and preparation are now well underway to ensure that our health system is resilient enough to manage not just seasonal pressures, but an element of the unknown too.

The government’s Autumn and Winter Plan has introduced measures to try and ensure that the impact of Covid-19, contained by the UK’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign, does not exert too much pressure on an already stretched NHS.

But health leaders also recognise that uncertainty around the effect of vaccine preventable respiratory diseases (VPRDs) could pose a significant risk in their own right.

Modelling for the UK’s 2021-22 influenza season estimates it could be up to 50 per cent larger than typically seen, while research by the Academy of Medical Sciences warns that cases of flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are expected to surge rapidly, with hospital admissions and deaths from influenza potentially doubling compared with “normal” years.

Compounding this challenge, the relaxation of measures to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 means this winter is expected to be the first time when the seasonal flu virus and other respiratory viruses will co-circulate alongside Covid-19.

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While the influenza and Covid-19 booster vaccination campaigns are already in progress, World Pneumonia Day on 12 November reminds us that other viruses also pose a public health threat.

With the risk of co-circulation exacerbating winter pressures– and with more vulnerable people expected to be admitted into hospital – it is no surprise to hear that vaccines are once again being heralded as a key weapon in the health system’s arsenal this winter. Indeed, vaccination has been shown to be one of the most successful and cost-effective public health tools that we have to combat VPRDs.

We have already seen heroic efforts from the health service to protect the public and deliver the initial Covid-19 vaccine programme, as well as efforts from the public to curtail the virus. As of 4 November, more than 104 million Covid-19 vaccines have been administered across the UK and most recent estimates from the UK Health and Security Agency suggest that 261,500 hospitalisations and 127,500 deaths have been prevented as a result.

Vaccination in general has been utilised to protect public health. Last winter, the government introduced an expanded influenza vaccination campaign, which achieved record influenza vaccination uptake rates. In contrast, although the NHS recommends all adults 65 years or older receive a pneumococcal vaccination, the latest annual data shows that only one in eight (12.9 per cent) adults aged 65 received this immunisation.

Given the demonstrable benefit to public health, we all have a duty to be aware of individual vaccine eligibility and take action to protect ourselves, our communities and our NHS, now more than ever, ahead of the forthcoming winter season.

Susan Rienow is head of vaccines at Pfizer UK

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