All you need to know about Covid booster and flu jabs as immunity drop causing 'significant' public health concern

By Aine Fox and Jane Kirby, PA & Max Channon

The biggest flu programme in the NHS’s history is under way and Covid booster jabs are also being rolled out.

It comes amid growing fears that flu could be major problem this winter, due to a drop in natural immunity caused by lockdowns and social distancing measures.

Academy of Medical Sciences modelling suggests flu will cause between 15,000 to 60,000 deaths this winter - making the season more than twice as deadly as an average year.

England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer 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.”

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at the situation as we head towards winter.

Who is eligible for a free flu vaccine?

More than 35 million people in England can take up the offer of a free flu jab this year.

People aged 50 and over, including those who will turn 50 by the end of March 2022, are eligible.

As well as this, people with certain health conditions, pregnant women, carers and those in long-stay residential care, those living with someone who is more likely to get infections, and frontline health or social care workers are also eligible.

And what about booster coronavirus jabs?

Some 28 million people in England are eligible for a booster jab, with around 1.7 million people having had a third shot so far.

Those who can have a booster include everyone aged 50 and over, frontline health and social care workers, and those aged between 16 and 49 with an underlying health condition putting them at greater risk from Covid-19.

Boosters will be given to people at least six months after they had their second coronavirus jab.

Can I get both jabs together?

In some areas, people might be offered the Covid jab in one arm and the flu vaccine in the other on the same day, although this will not be available everywhere.

Flu happens every winter, so why is this the biggest flu jab programme in NHS history?

With lockdowns and social distancing last winter not many people got flu, therefore there is not as much natural immunity as there would usually be.

The spread of flu this winter might be greater than usual, making it a “significant public health concern”, according to England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam.

He warned the public we need to take “seriously” the fact that we face a winter of both Covid-19 and flu co-circulating.

So what can we do to help ourselves?

Prof Van-Tam said we need to “defend ourselves and the NHS by getting the annual flu jab and the Covid-19 booster when called”.

He said: “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.”

What if you are not eligible for a free flu vaccine?

People can make an appointment to pay for a dose at pharmacies.

What are the predictions for how serious the situation might get this winter?

Earlier this week, Professor Neil Ferguson, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the UK does not have much “headroom” for rising Covid-19 cases before the NHS becomes “heavily stressed”.

A report in the summer from the Academy of Medical Sciences assessed the triple threat of coronavirus, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and found that hospital admissions and deaths from flu and RSV could be more than double those seen in a normal year, leading to as many as 60,000 flu deaths and 40,000 children in hospital with RSV.

What are the hopes for uptake of the flu jab this year?

The NHS has set an ambition to reach at least 85% of people aged 65 and over.

It also hopes to reach at least 75% of people with underlying health conditions, such as asthma and heart disease, at least 75% of pregnant women and at least 70% of eligible children.

It is hoped at least 85% of frontline health and social care workers will accept a flu jab this year.


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