The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is warning that lower levels of natural immunity within the UK population, against the most common H3N2 flu strain, could lead to the virus circulating widely this winter.
Having seen how the strain of flu has recently caused waves of infection in countries including Australia, which has already experienced this year’s winter, public health experts are predicting that a difficult winter lies ahead for UK residents.
That and cases of coronavirus, which is already beginning to climb across the UK, and in Devon, and UKHSA today is urging everyone who is eligible for a free flu vaccine and COVID-19 booster, to take up the offer as soon as possible.
Natural immunity against the flu strain is relatively low, because despite it being present last winter, coronavirus restrictions held it at bay. That helped protect people from catching flu, but it also led to lower levels of natural immunity within the population against the virus.
All primary school and some secondary school children are eligible for the flu nasal spray this year, which is usually given at school.
GP surgeries are also inviting children aged two and three years old (age on 31 August) for their nasal spray vaccination at their practices.
Study results from early in the pandemic show that people who catch both flu and COVID-19 at the same time are around twice as likely to die, compared to those who only have COVID-19.
Steve Brown, Devon’s Director of Public Health, said:
“This is a clarion call for everyone in Devon, who is eligible for the free flu vaccine and the coronavirus booster, to come forward as soon as they are invited to do so.
“Taking up both COVID-19 booster and flu jab is an essential form of protection against these respiratory viruses.”
Dr Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Advisor at UKHSA, said that there are strong indications that the UK could be facing the threat of widely circulating flu, lower levels of natural immunity, and an increase in coronavirus.
“This combination poses a serious risk to our health, particularly those in high-risk groups,” she said.
People who are older or who have other health conditions that make them vulnerable, are at greatest risk this winter.
“Vaccines are the best way for us to protect ourselves from serious illness this winter,” says Steve Brown. “I urge everyone who is eligible, not to be complacent, and to take up the vaccines when invited to do so.”