Millions urged to get flu and Covid jabs as experts predict ‘difficult winter’

Millions have been urged to get their flu and Covid vaccines amid warnings a “twindemic” and difficult winter could lie ahead.

A devastating flu season is expected in the colder months, which has sparked fears it could combine with rising Covid numbers and overload the NHS.

Experts warned there could be a “serious risk to health” this year over flu levels, lower immunity due to reduced exposure and an increase in Covid with lots of variants circulating around.

Public health and NHS leaders are urging those eligible to get vaccinated against both illnesses to protect themselves and those around them.

Dr Thomas Waite, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said: “Vaccines have saved many lives over the years for both flu and more recently Covid.

“But we must not be complacent – infections will rise once again this winter, so it’s really important people get both their Covid and flu vaccines if eligible.”

NHS Providers said trust leaders were “bracing themselves” for the possible “twindemic”.

“The recent uptick in Covid-19 cases and hospital admissions is concerning and time will tell if this ripple turns into a full-blown wave,” Miriam Deakin, its director of policy and strategy, said.

“Covid-19 boosters and flu vaccines this autumn will reduce the risk of serious illness and we would urge everyone to have their jabs when they can.”

Under plans announced on Wednesday, around 33 million people in England will be eligible for a free flu vaccine this year, including all primary-age and some secondary-age children, who will be offered the nasal spray.

Around 26 million people in England are also eligible for the autumn Covid booster vaccine.

People who qualify for both jabs could be offered the flu and Covid jab at the same time if supply allows, though in different arms.

International surveillance shows the UK can expect the spread of H3N2 (a subtype of influenza type A), which is currently the most commonly detected flu virus worldwide.

It did circulate in the UK last winter but less mixing due to Covid means there is little immunity to it.

Officials at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) warned there will be lower levels of natural immunity to flu this year after a few winters when people socialised far less due to the Covid pandemic.

The UKHSA said that, in addition to a predicted flu wave, there are “early indications” that Covid rates are beginning to rise ahead of winter.

Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at UKHSA, said: “Flu and Covid-19 are unpredictable but there are strong indications we could be facing the threat of widely circulating flu, lower levels of natural immunity due to less exposure over the last three winters and an increase in Covid-19 circulating with lots of variants that can evade the immune response.

“This combination poses a serious risk to our health, particularly those in high-risk groups.”

“The H3N2 flu strain can cause particularly severe illness. If you are elderly or vulnerable because of other conditions you are at greater risk, so getting the flu jab is a sensible, potentially life-saving thing to do,” she said.

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