The largest flu program in NHS history is under way and Covid booster vaccinations are also being rolled out.
It comes amid growing fears that the flu could be a major problem this winter due to a drop in natural immunity caused by lockdowns and social distancing measures.
The Academy of Medical Sciences models suggest the flu will cause between 15,000 and 60,000 deaths this winter – making the season more than twice as deadly as the average year.
England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said: “Not many people got the flu from Covid-19 restrictions last year, so there isn’t as much natural immunity as usual in our communities.
“This winter we’ll see the flu circulate; it could be higher than usual, making it a significant public health problem.
“Covid-19 will still be around and, unfortunately, as more people mix indoors, some increases are possible.
“For the first time, Covid-19 and flu will circulate together. We have to take this seriously and defend ourselves and the NHS by getting the annual flu shot and Covid-19 booster on demand.
“Both viruses are serious: they can spread easily, cause hospitalization, and both can be fatal. It’s really important that people get their vaccines as soon as possible. “
Here the PA news agency takes a look at the situation on the way to winter.
Who is eligible for a free flu vaccine?
More than 35 million people in England will get a free flu shot this year.
Eligible are people aged 50 and over, including those who will turn 50 by the end of March 2022.
In addition, those with specific health problems, pregnant women, caregivers and those in long-term care homes, those living with someone who is more susceptible to infection, and frontline health or social workers are also eligible.
And what about booster coronavirus jabs?
About 28 million people in England are entitled to a booster vaccination, with about 1.7 million people having received a third vaccination to date.
Those who can get a refresher include anyone aged 50 and over, frontline health and social workers, and anyone between the ages of 16 and 49 with an underlying health condition that puts them at higher risk from Covid-19.
Boosters are given to people at least six months after their second coronavirus vaccination.
Can I get both jabs together?
In some areas, people may be offered the Covid vaccine in one arm and the flu vaccine in the other on the same day, although this will not be available everywhere.
Flu happens every winter, so why is this the largest flu vaccination program in NHS history?
Due to lockdowns and social distancing last winter, not many people caught the flu, so there isn’t as much natural immunity as it normally would.
The spread of the flu this winter could be greater than usual, which could make it a “significant public health problem,” according to England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam.
He warned the public that we must “take seriously” the fact that we are facing a winter of Covid-19 and flu.
So what can we do to help ourselves?
Prof. Van-Tam said we have to “defend ourselves and the NHS by getting the annual flu shot and the Covid-19 booster when called”.
He said, “Both viruses are serious: they can both spread easily, cause hospitalization, and both can be fatal.
“It’s really important that people get their vaccines as soon as possible.”
What if you aren’t eligible for a free flu vaccine?
People can make an appointment to pay for a dose in pharmacies.
What are the predictions for how serious the situation could get this winter?
Earlier this week, Professor Neil Ferguson, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the UK would not have much “headroom” for rising Covid-19 cases before the NHS was “severely stressed”.
A summer report from the Academy of Medical Sciences assessed the triple threat of coronavirus, flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and found that hospital admissions and deaths from flu and RSV could be more than double what it would be in a normal year, up to to 60,000 flu deaths and 40,000 hospitalized children with RSV.
What are the hopes for the flu shot to start this year?
The NHS aims to reach at least 85% of people aged 65 and over.
She also hopes to reach at least 75% of people with pre-existing conditions such as asthma and heart disease, at least 75% of pregnant women, and at least 70% of eligible children.
It is hoped that at least 85% of frontline health and welfare workers will accept a flu shot this year.
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