Public health experts have urged vulnerable patients to come forward for their influenza jabs, highlighting that more people died from flu than Covid-19 last winter.
Last year’s flu vaccination programme prevented around 25,000 hospitalisations in England, according to data presented by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
Eligible groups also encouraged to book their Covid booster ‘to give themselves full winter protection’.
Recently published modelling from UKHSA sought to ascertain the number of hospitalisations prevented as a result of the flu vaccination programme in the 2022/23 season.
It said: ‘Preliminary findings of this work are that, compared to a scenario of no vaccinations, the immunisation programme as implemented in 2022/23 averted 25,200 influenza hospitalisations in England.
‘This has a 95% confidence interval with a range of 16,800 to 36,400 hospitalisations averted.’
However, despite these averted hospitalisations, the number of excess winter deaths from flu were higher than those from Covid, with over 14,000 recorded.
There were also over 10,000 children admitted to hospital last year.
In the first few weeks of the Covid and flu campaigns, around one in ten of the eligible populations have been vaccinated, according to NHS England’s chief delivery officer Steve Russell, who is responsible for the rollout.
Mr Russell said the NHS is ‘off to a really good start’, and confirmed that so far over three million have had a flu vaccine, out of an eligible population of 30 million, while over two million people have had a Covid vaccine out of an eligible population of around 20 million.
However, he said it is a ‘bit too early’ to assess whether this uptake aligns with last year’s trends.
The JCVI has recommended that for this year’s autumn campaign, Covid vaccination eligibility covers residents in care homes, all adults aged 65 and over, and people in a clinical risk group, among others.
In a briefing on Friday last week, deputy CMO Dr Thomas Waite said he is ‘worried’ about both flu and Covid, and is ‘equally concerned to see uptake as high as we can for both campaigns’.
‘Trying to say what is going to happen in advance is tricky. I certainly think that flu has a more predictable seasonality and is returning towards that seasonality, though Covid, as we’ve seen with waves throughout the year, is still not what we would call a simply seasonal winter disease,’ he said.
The deputy CMO also said he does not doubt that Covid in particular ‘will continue to surprise us’.
The Government is particularly keen to increase vaccination uptake among pregnant women and children, ‘for whom influenza can really be a very unpleasant disease’, according to Dr Waite.
They claimed that there had been ‘muddled and mismanaged communications’ over the start date, and also criticised the end of October expiration date on additional Covid vaccine payments.
GPC chair Dr Katie Bramall-Stainer said in her recent update to GPs that for practices ‘this may make continuing to offer the COVID vaccine through winter financially unviable without additional support’.