Health secretary Sajid Javid said that he is very “concerned” that the UK is likely to witness a bad flu season this year as covid restrictions enforced last winter “significantly weakened the immune system” against the virus.
Last year, health officials were hard pushed to detect any instances of influenza in the UK…
The US also witnessed its lowest ever flu season last year. The virus almost completely disappeared according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Javid told Sky News that the government is getting ready to roll out “the biggest flu vaccination programme this country has ever seen” following concerns that many more elderly and vulnerable people could contract the virus than that did last year.
He added for everyone over 50, “getting your flu jab is going to be as important as having your COVID jab“.
Ministers said the flu vaccine, to be rolled out from September, would be available to:
• All children aged two and three on 31 August 2021
• All children in primary and all children in school years 7 to 11 in secondary school
• Those aged six months to under 50 years in clinical risk groups
• Pregnant women
• Those aged 50 years and over
• Unpaid carers
• Close contacts of immunocompromised individuals
• Frontline health and adult social care staff
The plans stated that those aged two and three, primary school children and secondary school children up to Year 11 would be offered the nasal spray vaccine.
Unveiling the plans two months ago, the Department of Health and Social Care acknowledged that “it is possible there will be higher levels of flu this winter”.
Meanwhile, Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England (PHE), has previously warned that the coming flu season is “highly unpredictable”.
“The flu vaccine is safe, effective and protects millions of people each year from what can be a devastating illness,” Dr Doyle said in July.
Last winter, flu activity was extremely low, but this is no reason for complacency as it means less people have built up a defence against the virus. Combined with the likelihood that COVID-19 will still be circulating, this makes the coming flu season highly unpredictable.”
Speaking on Sky News’ Trevor Phillips on Sunday programme, Mr Javid said flu jab programme preparations were under way.
“Winter, autumn, it is not just COVID that likes that part of the year – it is other viruses too,” he said.
“You have just mentioned another really important thing that we have got to prepare for and that is flu.
“I have already mentioned the preparations for boosters and I think that is going to be an important part of our defence, but when it comes to flu, what we have been planning the past few weeks is the biggest flu vaccination programme this country has ever seen.
“Why am I concerned about that? Because last year we didn’t have much flu because of all the other controls that were in place. And that means there is a lot less immunity around to flu than normal.
“And we know in some years, in a bad flu year, just how terrible it can be.