Health experts urge those eligible to have flu jab as ‘uncertain’ winter lies ahead

Tuesday 12th October 2021

Health experts are urging anyone who is eligible for a flu jab to have their injection, with the winter ahead looking “uncertain.”

Dr Jenny Harries, head of the Health Security Agency, said that this winter could be particularly challenging, with large amounts of Covid circulating at the same time as flu. For the first time, the two viruses will be spreading at the same time, which could make people particularly susceptible to symptoms and possibly, severe signs of infection. 

Last winter, the number of cases of flu was significantly lower than in previous years due to social distancing and measures designed to prevent gathering in enclosed spaces. People were wearing masks in public spaces, schools closed for a period of time, students were doing online classes and employees were working from home. This winter, measures are less restrictive and people are mixing more, which could contribute to higher numbers of cases of flu and Covid-19. 

To try and reduce risks and prevent serious illness, the NHS is running a Covid-19 booster programme, which has already delivered 2 million doses and the country’s largest-scale flu vaccination programme ever. Over 40 million people will be eligible for a flu jab this year. Those eligible include adults over 50, younger adults with underlying health issues, health and social care workers, pregnant women, all children aged between 2 and 16 and infants at risk aged between 6 months and 2 years. 

Speaking to Andrew Marr on the BBC, Dr Harries explains that the winter is “uncertain” due to both viruses circulating simultaneously. There is a concern that case numbers will be higher than average following a winter where exposure was very low in 2020/2021 but vaccines could help to prevent many people from developing severe symptoms. Dr Harries encouraged those who are eligible to take advantage of the flu and Covid-19 booster vaccination programmes and urged the public to “stay alert.”

Flu causes symptoms such as a high temperature, chills, muscle aches, fatigue, a sore throat, cough and a runny nose. Most people do not require hospital treatment, but there is a risk of complications and in an average winter, around 11,000 lives will be lost to flu in England. To minimise risks, individuals are encouraged to stay at home if they have symptoms and limit social contact, to use tissues or cover the mouth to trap droplets released through coughing or sneezing and to try to avoid crowded places if possible.