UK bets on flu and booster vaccine campaign for NHS
Winter is coming, and with it, a potentially devastating combination for the U.K.’s health service: Rising coronavirus cases and a population that’s less protected from the flu.
As the country lifts coronavirus restrictions, with July 19 marking England’s “freedom day,” public health experts are warning of an inevitable further increase in case numbers and increased pressure on the National Health Service.
At the same time, the government is facing another challenge as it plans the largest seasonal flu vaccination campaign in history. From September on, the government announced today, 35 million people will be eligible to receive the seasonal flu vaccine, including older children — a group that wasn’t offered the vaccine in 2020.
The campaign will coincide with plans to offer a third coronavirus vaccine dose to those most vulnerable to COVID-19 — a group that often overlaps with those prioritized for the flu jab. The booster coronavirus vaccine campaign envisions millions of people being offered a third jab to ensure they “continue to have the protection they need ahead of the winter and against new variants,” said the government in a statement.
The announcement comes two days after a report by the Academy of Medical Sciences that warned flu outbreaks could be twice as worse as usual and possibly overlap with a peak in COVID-19 infections. Experts say that the very low levels of flu over the winter of 2020 mean that the population immunity will have diminished, making many more people more vulnerable this year.
Under some modeling scenarios, hospital admission could rise to similar levels seen last winter, said Azra Ghani, chair in infectious disease epidemiology at Imperial College London.
The coming flu season is “highly unpredictable,” explained Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, in a statement. “We will be preparing for a challenging winter by expanding our world-leading flu vaccination programme to over 35 million people, saving more lives and limiting the impact on the NHS and social care.”