The UK has been urged to prepare for a big, early wave of flu by the UK Health Security Agency (“UKHSA”) experts. This warning, is based on what Australia has just experienced during its winter. Australia and many other southern hemisphere nations have just experienced their most rampant flu season for years. UKHSA experts believe this is due to lower levels of flu circulating in the past couple of years, with all the focus on COVID-19 vaccinations. Therefore, there is a concern that there has been a reduction of immunity levels for flu, combined with a strong flu strain identified.
The Autumn Flu & COVID-19 wave
UKHSA chief medical adviser Dr Susan Hopkins said:
“COVID-19 cases looked like they were turning in all four nations in the UK. We do believe we are starting to see our autumn wave of COVID-19.”
This was further identified by NHS director for vaccinations and screening Steve Russel who said:
“This winter could be the first time we see the effects of the so called ‘twindemic’ with both COVID-19 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.”
As a result, UKHSA say this year’s flue jab is a good match for the particular type of seasonal influenza that is currently circulating, which is a strain identified and known as H3N2. In Australia, during its winter, people experienced this strain and a severe flu season. However, the flu jab offered good protection and was well matched. The H3N2 strain, is the same type of strain which caused a bad flu season in the UK in 2017-2018. In 2017-2018 the number of excess deaths that winter in England and Wales exceeded 50,000, which was the highest recorded since the winter of 1975-1976. Of this 50,000 excess deaths, 22,000 were thought to be associated with flu.
Importance of the booster jab
UKHSA is recommending the vaccination to help prevent people getting seriously ill. The NHS is offering free flu shots to 33 million people in the UK this autumn. Furthermore, 26 million people are also eligible for a free COVID-19 booster to top up their immunity. COVID-19 and flu vaccines are recommended and now eligible for the following groups of people:
- everyone over 50
- pregnant women
- people with certain underlying health conditions
- care-home residents
- front-line health and social care workers
What are experts saying?
Dr Hopkins said:
“I am more worried about flu than I have been for the last few years because of the reduction of immunity that is around. There is strong indications that the UK could face the threat of widely circulating flu along with new COVID-19 variants that might evade the immune response. This combination poses a serious risk to our health, particularly those in high-risk groups. So, if you are offered a jab, please come forward to protect yourself.”