Those eligible for the free flu vaccine and COVID-19 booster jab are being urged to book their appointments as soon as possible in a film campaign aiming to help people give themselves and their loved ones the best possible protection this winter.
The film sees media medics Dr Amir Khan, Dr Dawn Harper and Dr Karan Ranj explain why it is more important than ever for people to get their winter vaccines as soon as possible this autumn, as both viruses have the potential to cause serious illness and hospitalisation.
The campaign is launched as new research suggests that adults in England are severely underestimating the combined threat of COVID-19 and flu this winter.
There could be a significant flu surge this winter coinciding with continuing or rising COVID-19 cases. This is due to colder weather which favours transmission, darker nights which mean increased social contact indoors where it is less well ventilated, and expected lower immunity to flu due to lower levels in circulation last winter.
A recent survey seeking views from 3,000 participants found that nearly one third (32%) were unaware that flu and COVID-19 can circulate at the same time, over a quarter (26%) did not know that flu can be fatal and over half (55%) underestimated the number of people who die from flu in an average year in England (which is approximately 11,000).
Even those deemed high risk for COVID-19 had low awareness of the possible dangers. Nearly a quarter of those over 50 (24%) and 29% of those with long-term health conditions (who are a priority group for the COVID-19 booster and an eligible group for the flu vaccine), were unaware that flu and COVID-19 could circulate at the same time. Over a third (37%) of pregnant women, who are an eligible group for a free flu vaccine, were also unaware that you can still catch flu if you’ve had the COVID-19 vaccine.
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.
“Both these viruses are serious: they can both spread easily, cause hospitalisation and they can both be fatal. It is really important that people get their vaccines as soon as they can.”
Up to an estimated 131,300 lives have been saved by the COVID-19 vaccine so far – and up to 24.3 million infections prevented. The flu vaccine and COVID-19 booster vaccines offer the best protection from these life-threatening viruses.
Despite low awareness of the threat of both flu and COVID-19 this winter, the survey findings revealed vaccine confidence levels were still high with over 8 in 10 (83%) of those double-vaccinated saying they would get the COVID-19 booster vaccine if offered and 2 in 3 (66%) of all adults in England saying they would get the flu jab.
After restrictions put in place to protect the public from COVID-19 last Christmas, the main incentives people listed in the new survey included the desire to be with family at Christmas this year, with 2 in 5 (41%) citing this as a reason to get the COVID-19 booster vaccine and nearly a quarter (24%) for flu.
Eligible people can book an appointment for their flu jab at either their GP practice or their local pharmacy. Those who are pregnant can ask for their free flu jab at their local maternity service.
The campaign is also supported by a coalition of leading charities and healthcare professional bodies, including the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Midwives, Asthma UK, British Lung Foundation and Royal Pharmaceutical Society.
NHS is urging people who are eligible for the free flu vaccine to book their appointment as soon as possible this autumn before flu starts to circulate.
For the COVID-19 booster, people will be invited when it’s their turn, and do not have to do anything in the meantime.