Top medical professionals have urged people to get vaccinated against the flu
A brief, sharp spate of cases in Australia has sparked fears that a similar outbreak in the UK – due to low immunity – will put more pressure on an already creaky NHS. A record 35 million people are currently eligible for a flu shot.
Professor Robert Booy, an infectious disease expert at the University of Sydney, said many viruses made a comeback during Australia’s winter from June to August.
He warned: “You can be fairly certain that the UK will have at least a moderate and possibly a severe respiratory virus season.
“It will be dominated by influenza and Covid, but will also include other viruses. You must prepare now.”
There have been almost no flu cases in the UK over the past two years as Covid measures, including lockdowns, have suppressed other viruses. However, this means that immunity is likely to be low, making people more susceptible.
More than 223,000 cases of influenza were reported in Australia this year. They included 295 deaths and 1,763 hospital admissions.
In 2021, only 512 cases were recorded. There were no deaths.
A COVID-19 and Flu Assessment Clinic Sydney, Australia
Prof Booy said: “The flu came early this year, which was unusual, and it peaked quickly and then quickly disappeared.
“While it used to be spread over three months, this time it was more like six to eight weeks. That was because we believe a lot of viruses came back this year.
“All these viruses were spreading like crazy and competing with each other, so the combination of all of them resulted in a bad breath season.”
Prof Booy said immunity has dropped, particularly in children aged one to three who have never been exposed to the flu.
Older people are also at increased risk if they are away from the virus for a number of years.
Prof Booy said: “We do not have optimal vaccination rates in young children or the elderly. We could do better, in the UK and here.”
Flu shots will be offered to a record number of people in the UK this year, including over-50s, medical workers, carers and expectant mothers.
There are fears even a moderate wave of respiratory infections could hit the struggling NHS.
The service did not have its usual summer break, and recent months have seen record pressure on ambulances and emergency rooms.
Prof Booy said Australia was under “real pressure” on its healthcare system, prompting many regions to offer free flu shots for all ages.
He said people at risk should take “simple, sensible” measures, such as: E.g. wearing a mask, keeping your distance, reducing the number of social guests and moving events outside.
Gary McLean, professor of molecular immunology at London Metropolitan University, said there was “no better time” for the annual flu shot and Covid booster.
He added: “We are looking at the southern hemisphere to predict what the influenza season might be like in the northern hemisphere and what dominant virus strains are circulating.
“As the projected rise in Covid cases also materializes, we are likely to have a bad winter ahead of us in terms of respiratory virus infections.”
Medical professor Paul Hunter of East Anglia University warned there could be “a big peak in infections and a lot of people could get pretty sick”.
The health protection expert added: “A lot of people haven’t had the flu for maybe five years. The flu shot offered is the best thing you can do this winter to protect yourself from this infection.”
“I have to protect my family this winter”
Lisa Taylor was the first patient to receive a flu shot from a High Street pharmacy this fall.
The 51-year-old from Chiswick, west London, got her shot at a Superdrug store.
She said: “I have decided to organize my flu shot earlier than usual due to the uncertainties surrounding higher flu levels this season. One of my children is immunocompromised and my parents are older and more vulnerable, so I must do whatever it takes to stay healthy and protect my family.”
Superdrug offers both NHS and private flu shots and has seen an unprecedented 788 per cent increase in bookings compared to 2021.
Niamh McMillan, the company’s chief pharmacist, said: “We have trained all our pharmacists and nurses to offer the service in as many locations as possible to ensure the most vulnerable are protected.
“We are also in the process of setting up a number of Covid-19 vaccination clinics to help the public get their refresher in the coming months. We are seeing unprecedented demand from the public to protect themselves and their families.”
The NHS is now beginning to roll out flu shots to eligible people.
Although the public health focus has been heavily on Covid-19 since early 2020, influenza remains a major threat to vulnerable people and public health in the UK.
We have been fortunate that flu rates have been very low here in recent years.
However, there are signs from Australia that we may see much higher rates of influenza this winter. Australia has seen its highest flu rates since the start of the Covid crisis and this could be an indicator of what Britain may be facing in our own winter.
Because flu rates have been low in recent years, it means people are less immune to a previous infection.
The end of Covid-19 control measures – like face masks and social distancing – combined with the return to normal social activities also increase the likelihood of a major flu outbreak this winter.
This makes flu shots essential — especially for the elderly, those who are clinically at risk, and people who work in health and social care.
You can get your flu vaccine from a number of places, such as B. in your family doctor’s office or in a local pharmacy.
The flu shot reduces your risk of catching it and developing a more serious illness
which can result in hospitalization or death.
By getting vaccinated you are also helping to ease the pressure on the NHS at a time when it is facing unprecedented care demands.
So don’t hesitate. Get your flu vaccine if you’re eligible to protect yourself and the NHS.