Flu jab: Respiratory illnesses could claim 60,000 lives this winter as NHS launches new vaccination campaign

·3-min read

Health chiefs are warning there is a "realistic possibility" the UK will see a surge in flu cases this winter.

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".

A report in the summer from Academy of Medical Sciences assessed how the triple threat of coronavirus, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) might affect the NHS this winter.

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It 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.

In response to concerns about the combined threat of flu and COVID-19, the government has launched a new film urging people to book their vaccine appointments as soon as possible.

The campaign features three doctors - Dr Amir Khan, Dr Dawn Harper and Dr Karan Rajan - explaining the importance of getting vaccinated against both viruses before winter.

Extremely low flu infection rates last winter means community immunity will be much lower as we head into the flu season.

In an average year, 11,000 people die from flu in England, although this can vary significantly depending on the strain in circulation.

A recent survey of 3,000 people commissioned by the Cabinet Office found that over half (55%) of people think the number is lower than that.

Nearly one in three (32%) did not know that flu and COVID-19 can circulate at the same time, while more than a quarter (26%) were unaware that flu can be fatal.

Researchers from the Academy of Medical Sciences predicted this year could see a doubling of deaths and hospitalisations.

This winter has a double problem with influenza and coronavirus co-circulating, and social distancing measures removed.

Chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency Dr Jenny Harries said with increased mixing and travel borders opening up, "we expect influenza to be much more common in the 21/22 winter".

NHS deputy vaccination programme lead Dr Nikki Kanani said: "We do have an increased risk from flu and COVID this year."

That is why it is hoped there will be a high take-up of the flu vaccine this year, particularly among the groups most at risk.

Last year saw record numbers get the jab, with over 80% of those aged over 65 receiving the vaccine.

This year, 35 million people will be offered the vaccine on the NHS, including secondary school pupils up to year 11. People aged 50 to 64 will also be eligible.

There will be monitoring of groups that are more reluctant to take up the vaccine, such as some ethnic minority groups and pregnant women.

Alongside the flu vaccine, the booster COVID jabs are starting to be rolled out.

They will not necessarily be offered at the same time, although Professor Van-Tam said he was "very confident" there will be a good response to both vaccines being given out together.

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"My advice would always be to get the protection on board as soon as possible," he said.

People can book their free NHS flu vaccine via pharmacies or they can wait for their GP surgery to contact them.

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