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Flu vaccines crucial as winter approaches

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Flu will circulate alongside COVID-19 Flu will circulate alongside COVID-19

Those eligible for the free flu vaccine and COVID-19 booster jab are being urged to book their appointments as soon as possible as part of a new campaign from the Department of Health and Social Care.

The campaign is launched as new research released today suggests that adults in England are severely underestimating the combined threat of COVID-19 and flu this winter.

Read more: Initiative boosts ethnic minority vaccinations

There could be a significant flu surge this winter coinciding with continuing or rising COVID-19 cases. This is due to colder weather which favours transmission, darker nights which mean increased social contact indoors where it is less well ventilated, and expected lower immunity to flu due to lower levels in circulation last winter.

‘This year we are rolling out the largest flu vaccine programme in our history, alongside the new COVID-19 booster vaccine rollout. Both are important to provide vital protection not only to yourself, but also your loved ones while also helping to ease pressure on the NHS,’ said Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid.

‘The COVID-19 vaccine programme is a fantastic example of how successful vaccination programmes can be – with around 130,000 lives saved. It is vital we continue that incredible progress with all those eligible ensuring they get both their flu and COVID-19 booster injections as soon as they are invited.’

A recent survey seeking views from 3,000 participants found that nearly one third (32%) were unaware that flu and COVID-19 can circulate at the same time, over a quarter (26%) did not know that flu can be fatal and over half (55%) underestimated the number of people who die from flu in an average year in England (which is approximately 11,000).

Read more: Four in five people aged 16 and over vaccinated with both doses

Even those deemed high risk for COVID-19 had low awareness of the possible dangers. Nearly a quarter of those over 50 (24%) and 29% of those with long-term health conditions (who are a priority group for the COVID-19 booster and an eligible group for the flu vaccine), were unaware that flu and COVID-19 could circulate at the same time. Over a third (37%) of pregnant women, who are an eligible group for a free flu vaccine, were also unaware that you can still catch flu if you’ve had the COVID-19 vaccine.

‘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,’ said Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam.

‘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.’

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