Flu could be wiped out due to Covid says Essex health chief

The director of public health for Essex has repeated his claims that flu will be wiped out this year.

Mike Gogarty made the claims ahead of new Public Health England (PHE) research suggesting that people infected with both flu and Covid-19 between January and April were more at risk of severe illness and death.

As many as 30 million people will be offered the free flu vaccine this year, the highest number ever.

Scaled-up marketing campaigns across TV, radio and digital advertising will reinforce the seriousness of flu.

But the messaging will come after Mr Gogarty repeated his assertions last week that measures being taken to curb the spread of Covid-19 will effectively wipe out flu this year.

Last year, vaccine uptake in the East was 42.5 per cent for at-risk groups; 41.7 per cent for pregnant women; and 48 per cent for two to three-year-olds. The largest uptake (71.9 per cent) was among 65+ year-olds.

Three of the nation’s senior medics – Dr Yvonne Doyle, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam and Dr Nikita Kanani – are calling on all eligible people to get vaccinated against flu, as new research from Public Health England (PHE) suggests that the risk of death more than doubled for people who tested positive for both flu and Covid-19, compared to those with Covid-19 alone.

The research, looking at cases between January and April this year, also found that those with co-infection of the two viruses were more at risk of severe illness. Most cases of co-infection were in older people and more than half of them died.

Flu is a serious condition that kills on average 11,000 people in England each year and hospitalises many more. Adults at high risk from flu are also most at risk from Covid-19 and the free vaccine is more important than ever to help protect people in the East of England from a double threat this winter.

This year, the programme is being expanded to help protect people from flu and ease pressure on the NHS and urgent care services.

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 to 64-year olds will be invited for vaccination later in the season. Anyone who is 50 to 64 years old with a long-term health condition should be vaccinated earlier in the season, in line with all others in risk groups.

As part of England’s biggest ever flu campaign – alongside adverts across the media and posters in key locations such as GP surgeries, pharmacies and hospitals – eligible people will receive additional direct reminders prompting them to book their appointment, supporting the hard work of local GP practices and pharmacies in driving uptake among their registered eligible patients.

To help increase uptake in the social care sector, for the first time pharmacists will be able to vaccinate both residents and care home staff at the same time.

Employers of frontline health and social care workers also have a responsibility to ensure their staff can get the free vaccine. A record number of NHS staff – three quarters of a million (equivalent to 75 per cent) of frontline healthcare workers – took up their workplace vaccination last year.

Overall nearly two thirds of eligible people received their free vaccine last year, making uptake rates in England among the highest in Europe.

Last year in the East of England nine per cent of 65-year-olds and over had the vaccine, 42.5 per cent for at-risk groups had it, 41.7 per cent of pregnant women had it and 48 per cent of two to three-year-olds also had it.

Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, said: “It is dangerous to dismiss influenza as ‘just’ the flu – it can be extremely serious and can lead to hospitalisation, permanent disability or even death.

“The flu vaccine is more important than ever, to help reduce transmission of flu and protect the nation from the double threat of flu and Covid-19. You may be offered it for the first time this year – it is important that you take up the offer to protect yourself and others.”

In a meeting last week Dr Gogarty said: “There is a lot of talk about flu – my prediction is we won’t see any.

“Basically if you assume coronavirus has an R value of three  and your average flu has an R value of lower than two, anything that pushes the coronavirus R value down to below 1.5 is going to smash flu.

“So it is very unlikely that flu will get a grip because the very things we do to prevent coronavirus will prevent flu from taking over.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter