In anticipation of the winter season, individuals are being encouraged to receive flu vaccinations to alleviate the strain on the NHS. The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has issued a stark warning, emphasising the serious effects of the flu.
According to data, during the 2022/23 winter, deaths from flu surpassed those from Covid-19, with over 14,000 excess winter deaths recorded, and more than 10,000 children were hospitalised due to flu-related complications.
Recent UKHSA modelling shows last year’s flu vaccine prevented approximately 25,000 hospitalisations in England with just under 50,000 hospitalisations recorded through the season.
The effectiveness of this vaccination drive was notable, especially in children, where the vaccine reduced the risk of hospitalisations by two-thirds, a press release from UKHSA said.
Furthermore, data from the Southern Hemisphere’s winter season, dominated by the H1N1 subtype, suggests that the current flu vaccines are well-matched against circulating strains.
Vulnerable groups, including pregnant women, young children, and individuals with specific chronic medical conditions, including coronary heart disease, cerebral palsy, liver or spleen disorders, or long-term lung conditions, are at heightened risk of contracting the flu and therefore have been urged to come forward for flu vaccinations. These groups are particularly susceptible to flu-related complications.
In addition to the flu vaccine, eligible individuals are also encouraged to book their Covid-19 autumn booster shots to ensure comprehensive winter protection.
Professor Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at UKHSA, stressed the importance of vaccination, emphasising that taking both the flu and Covid-19 vaccines ahead of winter provides the best protection against severe illness, contributing significantly to easing the pressure on the healthcare system.
Vaccines minister Maria Caulfield echoed these sentiments, emphasising the need to reduce the burden on hospitals. She said that the NHS has already initiated its winter vaccination campaign, delivering flu jabs to millions. All eligible individuals are urged to book their flu and Covid-19 vaccines online, via the NHS App, or by calling 119.
Apart from flu, there is an anticipation of a surge in Covid-19 cases during the upcoming winter, posing higher risks to vulnerable populations.
Deputy chief medical officer, Dr Thomas Waite, said “Vaccination is our strongest form of defence so if you are eligible, please come forward and get your jabs as soon as possible.”
Parents of children aged 2 and 3 (as of August 31) are encouraged to schedule a nasal spray flu vaccine for their child at their local GP surgery.
The schools programme, which began in early September, targets children from ages 4 to 16, offering nasal spray vaccines or injections where suitable.
Participation from young people is crucial, protecting them and preventing the spread to vulnerable individuals around them.
Chief delivery officer and national director for vaccinations and screening for NHS England, Steve Russell, highlighted the NHS’s efforts, mentioning that millions of at-risk individuals have already received flu and Covid vaccines. He too urged everyone eligible for vaccinations to book their vaccinations to ensure vital protection against infections during the winter months.
He said, “Not only will these vaccines protect you and your loved ones from getting sick this winter, but they will also help ease pressure on the NHS by reducing hospitalisations – we want to see millions more getting vital protection – so please come forward and book your vaccines today.”
The flu and Covid-19 vaccines are vital tools in the fight against these illnesses, ensuring individuals remain safe and reducing the strain on healthcare facilities.
The UKHSA is actively working to provide timely and transparent infectious disease data through its new infectious disease data dashboard, bolstering the nation’s health security capabilities.