Experts are warning the public, particularly older people and those at risk from COVID-19, “not to be complacent” over flu amid new research that shows the dire consequences of co-infection.
Public Health England (PHE) officials have said that people infected with both influenza and coronavirus have an almost six times higher risk of death than the general population.
It warned that both influenza and COVID-19 could be circulating at the same time and has urged people can be vaccinated to get a jab.
As previously reported, people at risk from coronavirus and those aged over 50 will be eligible for a free vaccine this year, as part of the government’s expanded vaccination programme.
The Department of Health and Social Care said providers will work to vaccinate more than 30 million people during the flu season, nearly double the number of people vaccinated in 2019/20.
It is hoped that a new campaign will encourage those who are eligible to accept their invitation when it is sent out.
The campaign has been launched as a new study showed that during the first peak of the pandemic, people who were infected with both the new coronavirus and flu had a significantly higher risk of death.
PHE researchers analysed data in almost 20,000 people who were tested for both Covid-19 and flu between January 20 and April 25.
Fifty eight were identified as having ‘co-infection’ of the two viruses.
Overall 43% of people with co-infection died compared to 27% of those who tested positive for Covid-19 alone.
Most cases of co-infection were in older people and almost half of them died, PHE said.
Leading respiratory charities have previously written to social care bosses in England, urging them to drive staff uptake of the flu vaccine to avoid a potential deadly tidal wave of respiratory conditions this winter.
Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation wrote to 29 of the biggest social care organisations raising fears about the impact of flu in the social care setting this year if it is coupled with a second wave of COVID.
Alison Cook, director of external affairs at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, and chair of the Taskforce for Lung Health, said: “The social care sector have already been devastated by the pandemic and we know how hard staff are working up and down the country.
“Prevention is vital in protecting the most vulnerable in our society, so we urge all social care employers to do everything they can to make the flu jab a priority.”
Who is eligible for the flu vaccine?
- All primary school children and, for the first time, Year 7 children will be offered the flu ‘nasal spray’ in schools to reduce community transmission. Two and three-year olds will be offered the vaccine through their GP.
- The most vulnerable, including adults aged 65 and over, those with long-term health conditions and pregnant women, will be offered the flu vaccine first through their GP or pharmacy.
- The flu vaccine will also be offered to household contacts of people on the NHS Shielded Patient List and all health and all social care workers who have direct contact with the people they care for.
- Once uptake has been maximised in the most at-risk groups, the newly eligible 50-64-year olds will be invited for vaccination later in the season. Anyone who is 50-64 years old with long-term health condition should be vaccinated earlier in the season, in line with all others in risk groups.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “This year more than ever, it’s vital that those eligible for the flu jab get it this winter so you can protect yourself, your family and the NHS.
“We’re pulling out all the stops to prepare for this uniquely challenging winter and we have enough vaccines for 30 million people this year, more than we’ve ever done before.
“With the simultaneous risk of flu and Covid-19, make sure you get your flu jab if you’re eligible, don’t gather in groups larger than six and remember ‘Hands Face Space’ so we can look after each other.”