Flu could kill 60,000 this winter as Brits told book jabs and Covid boosters now
Millions of people are being urged to get jabs as experts warn 60,000 people could die of flu this winter.
There is a ‘real possibility’ of a flu surge in the coming months due to low immunity caused by lockdown, experts warn.
England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam says the winter of 1989/90 which saw 19,000 excess flu deaths is a ‘marker’.
Meanwhile, a report from the Academy of Medical Sciences predicted that hospital admissions and deaths from flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) could be more than double those seen in a normal year.
The researchers said this could lead to as many as 60,000 flu deaths and 40,000 children in hospital with RSV.
The NHS has launched a mission to defend Britain against the triple whammy of flu, RSV and Covid.
There are fears the health service will be pushed to breaking point if the viruses spread on top of normal seasonal pressures, with nurses warning the winter crisis is ‘already here’ and they are struggling to go on due to exhaustion.
The Government has launched the biggest flu programme in the history of the NHS, with more than 35 million people in England eligible for a free vaccine.
Covid booster jabs are also being rolled out, with around 1.7 million people given these third jabs so far and around 28 million people in England eligible.
The Covid booster must be given no earlier than six months after a second dose of any coronavirus vaccine, according to guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
As the weather gets cooler, experts are calling on people to take up the offer of a flu and/or Covid booster when the NHS contacts them, and not to delay having either jab.
In some regions, people may be offered the Covid jab in one arm and the flu vaccine in the other on the same day after the JCVI ruled this was safe.
In an average year, 11,000 people die from flu in England, although this can vary significantly depending on the strain in circulation.
Last winter, there were very few hospital admissions for flu due to social distancing measures, which meant it did not spread as much.
With people meeting more indoors and cooler temperatures helping the virus thrive, a massive surge is expected.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said ‘Not many people got flu last year because of Covid-19 restrictions, so there isn’t as much natural immunity in our communities as usual.
‘We will see flu circulate this winter; it might be higher than usual and that makes it a significant public health concern.
‘Covid-19 will still be circulating and with more people mixing indoors, sadly some increases are possible.
‘For the first time we will have Covid-19 and flu co-circulating. We need to take this seriously and defend ourselves and the NHS by getting the annual flu jab and the Covid-19 booster when called.
‘Both these viruses are serious: they can both spread easily, cause hospitalisation and they can both be fatal. It is really important that people get their vaccines as soon as they can.’
A recent survey of 3,000 people found that nearly one third (32%) were unaware that flu and Covid-19 can circulate at the same time.
A quarter (26%) did not know that flu can be fatal and over half (55%) underestimated the number of people who die from flu in an average year in England (which is approximately 11,000).
NHS deputy vaccination programme lead Dr Nikki Kanani said: “Flu and Covid-19 both cost lives and the increased threat from the two deadly viruses this winter makes it even more important for people to continue sticking to good habits like washing their hands regularly.
‘It’s important anyone eligible comes forward for a flu vaccine as soon as possible and books in their booster when they are invited – the vaccines are safe, effective and the best thing you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones this winter.’
More than 80% of people aged 65 and over had their flu jab last year – exceeding a global target of 75%. The NHS has set an ambition to reach at least 85% of this group this flu season.
Those eligible for a flu jab include secondary school pupils up to year 11, over-50s and all frontline health and social care staff.
People can book their free NHS flu vaccine via pharmacies or they can wait for their GP surgery to contact them.
Those eligible for a coronavirus booster jab are being told to wait until they are contacted, although health and social care workers can book one online via the NHS website.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘This year we are rolling out the largest flu vaccine programme in our history, alongside the new Covid-19 booster vaccine rollout; both are important to provide vital protection not only to yourself, but also your loved ones while also helping to ease pressure on the NHS.
‘The Covid-19 vaccine programme is a fantastic example of how successful vaccination programmes can be – with around 130,000 lives saved.
‘It is vital we continue that incredible progress with all those eligible ensuring they get both their flu and Covid-19 booster injections as soon as they are invited.’
Earlier this week, Professor Neil Ferguson, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) from Imperial College London, said the UK does not have much ‘headroom’ for rising Covid-19 cases before the NHS becomes ‘heavily stressed’.
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