The Government has today launched a new campaign urging people to come forward for flu and Covid jabs ‘as soon as possible’ when eligible.
It follows a recent survey of 3,000 people that revealed almost one third (32%) of participants did not realise flu and Covid can co-exist and over a quarter (26%) were unaware flu can be fatal.
The online survey, which was commissioned by the Cabinet Office and carried out last month, shows adults are ‘severely underestimating the combined threat of Covid-19 and flu this winter’, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.
This includes those ‘deemed high-risk’ for Covid, who also had ‘low awareness of the possible dangers’, it added.
The research found:
- over half (55%) of participants underestimated the number of people who die from the illness in an average year in England;
- nearly a quarter of over 50s (24%) and 29% of those with long term health conditions did not realise flu and Covid can circulate simultaneously;
- around one in ten (9%) people and over a third (37%) of pregnant women thought the Covid vaccine would protect them against flu;
- more than one in ten (13%) believed that flu is ‘a disease of the past’;
- one in five (20%) did not know or were unsure that flu spreads by coughs and sneezes and can live on hands and surfaces – similar to Covid-19.
However, it also revealed that vaccine confidence remains high – with over eight in 10 (83%) of double-jabbed respondents saying they would have the Covid booster if offered and two in three (66%) of adults saying they would receive the flu jab.
The new campaign, which is backed by the RCGP, will feature a video with media GPs Dr Amir Khan and Dr Dawn Harper stressing that both viruses can cause serious illness and hospitalisation.
The DHSC said it aims to encourage those eligible for the free flu vaccine and Covid booster to book their appointments ‘as soon as possible’ so they can have the ‘best possible protection’.
The campaign also comes amid the potential for a ‘significant flu surge this winter coinciding with continuing or rising Covid-19 cases’, it added.
According to modelling by the Academy of Medical Sciences earlier this year, between 15,000 and 60,000 people could die from influenza this winter.
The report also warned that outbreaks of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) could lead to double the number of related hospital admissions this winter compared with a pre-pandemic year.
It said that primary care would experience particular pressure from an RSV outbreak, due to GPs seeing the majority of these patients, who are usually the under-fives.
Deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said: ‘Not many people got flu last year because of Covid-19 restrictions, so there isn’t as much natural immunity in our communities as usual. We will see flu circulate this winter; it might be higher than usual and that makes it a significant public health concern.
‘Covid-19 will still be circulating and with more people mixing indoors, sadly some increases are possible. For the first time we will have Covid-19 and flu co-circulating. We need to take this seriously and defend ourselves and the NHS by getting the annual flu jab and the Covid-19 booster when called.’
NHS deputy vaccination programme lead Dr Nikki Kanani added: ‘Flu and Covid-19 both cost lives and the increased threat from the two deadly viruses this winter makes it even more important for people to continue sticking to good habits like washing their hands regularly.
‘It’s important anyone eligible comes forward for a flu vaccine as soon as possible and books in their booster when they are invited.’
Meanwhile, in a background briefing attended by Pulse, the new UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said it had this year extended those eligible to deliver the flu vaccine.
A new UKHSA national protocol published last month sets out that non-clinical vaccinators who have undertaken the required training can administer the flu vaccine under the supervision of a registered health practitioner.
And for the first time, UKHSA will monitor vaccine uptake in ethnic minorities over the age of 65, it said.
Speaking in the briefing, Ms Kanani reiterated that due to intense pressures on general practice, GPs are to make a lower contribution to the vaccine programmes than at earlier stages.
The UKHSA also said that co-administration of Covid boosters and flu jabs, previously recommended by MHRA, will be available in some areas.
It comes as a Government consultation is currently underway to decide whether or not to make Covid and flu jabs mandatory for GPs and other frontline health staff.
The Government is aiming for a record-sized flu vaccination programme, with a target 35 million people being offered the jab.