Around 1.25 million texts and 300,000 emails have already been sent to parents of two and three-year-olds urging them to book an appointment for their children, ahead of what is expected to be one of the most “challenging winters” on record for health services.
Last week, senior health officials warned of the “realistic possibility” that there could be up to 60,000 flu deaths in the months ahead, with the elderly and frail most vulnerable to the virus.
The NHS is aiming to roll out the flu jab to at least 85 per cent of people aged 65 and over. It also hopes to reach at least 75 per cent of people with underlying health conditions, at least 75 per cent of pregnant women, 70 per cent of under-17s and at least 85 per cent of all health and social care workers.
In total, around 35 million people have been made eligible for a free jab this year, amid fears that cases could rise by 50 per cent for the coming flu season.
“This year it is more vital than ever that all children and eligible adults take up the offer of the free vaccine, as we head into one of the most challenging winters yet for the NHS,” said Dr Nikki Kanani, medical director of primary care at NHS England.
Around 1.3 million letters are to be delivered to home this weekend outlining how parents can book the flu vaccine, which can be given to young children at their local GP practice as a nasal spray.
“The flu has a serious impact on the health of thousands of people every winter, and getting your child vaccinated will protect them, and help to stop the spread of the virus to your most vulnerable family members and loved ones,” Dr Kanani added.
The drive to boost flu vaccinations comes as the latest figures from Imperial College London’s React-1 study, one of many reviewed by the government’s Covid experts, show that Covid prevalence is highest among five to 12-year-olds and 13 to 17-year-olds. However, rates are falling in those aged 18 to 54.
Between 9 and 27 September, cases were also higher in people of Black ethnicity (1.41 per cent) compared with those from a white background (0.78 per cent), the study added.
There is evidence of infections rising within London and East Midlands, too, though the highest regional prevalence was recorded in Yorkshire and The Humber, with 1.25 per cent of the population infected over the time frame.
As part of the study, nasal swabs are taken from random samples of the population and the results are then extrapolated and compared with previous rounds from React-1.
Through this research, the team at Imperial were also able to conclude that overall protection against infection among the vaccinated stood at 62.8 per cent between 9 and 27 September.
For those who received the AstraZeneca jab, this figure stands at 44.8 per cent, but rises to 71.3 per cent among recipients of the Pfizer vaccine.
The lowest prevalence of Covid was recorded among those individuals who had received their second dose within the last three months. However, rates were higher in people who had been fully vaccinated between three and six months before testing under the study.
The researchers said that a possible increased in breakthrough infections over time reinforces the need for a booster programme, with more than two million third jabs delivered to people in England as of 10 October.
Commenting on the study, Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at The Open University, said the finding was “slightly concerning”.
“That could perhaps indicate that the effectiveness of the vaccine is reducing over time – but, as the React-1 researchers point out, these estimates involve averaging over different periods of time, and different states of the pandemic, and maybe they aren’t comparing like with like.”
The latest government data show that daily Covid cases have returned to the same heights last seen in July, while hospitalisations are also on the up.
On Wednesday, 42,776 positive tests were reported across the UK - a rise of seven per cent on the previous week. This is the highest figure recorded since 21 July, when 44,104 infections were posted, and marks an eighth consecutive day of increases.
A total of 754 people were also hospitalised with Covid on 9 October, according to the latest data, marking a 10.4 per cent week-on-week rise. In England, 17 some of critical care beds are occupied by Covid patients.
Professor Paul Elliott, director of the React programme at Imperial College London, said the UK was now in a “push-pull” dynamic driven by the virus, vaccine protection levels, natural immunity, and the population mixing pattern, “which is obviously another extremely important component of who gets infected, how many people infected and where they get infected.”