Perfect storm of flu and Covid could kill 20,000 and overwhelm NHS

Winter flu could kill 20,000: Perfect storm of seasonal virus and Covid may overwhelm NHS and lead to large number of deaths, experts warn

  • Experts predict the flu season could cause up to 20,000 deaths this winter
  • Dr Susan Hopkins said there were ‘strong indications’ the NHS would be hit hard
  • Vaccine fatigue could lead to people ignoring calls for flu and Covid jabs 

The NHS is bracing itself for the worst flu epidemic in years amid fears of a perfect storm this winter when combined with Covid.

Experts predict the flu season will hit hard and early, causing up to 20,000 deaths and hospitalising tens of thousands more.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) warned of a ‘difficult winter’ as viruses, including flu and Covid, are starting to circulate widely. 

They are now urging millions to get vaccinated or risk another catastrophic winter for the health service.

Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at UKHSA, said there were ‘strong indications’ that both posed a deadly threat this winter. 

She added: ‘If you are offered a jab, please come forward to protect yourself and help reduce the burden on our health services.’

Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at UKHSA, said there were ‘strong indications’ flu and Covid posed a deadly threat this winter

Experts have warned this winter could be catastrophic for the NHS, which is still trying to get to grips with the 6.84 million people already waiting for treatment

Doctors are particularly worried natural immunity to the flu virus is lower than it has ever been following the pandemic, which led to people socialising far less than usual.

A sharp wave of cases in Australia – driven mainly by children – has prompted fears of a similar outbreak in the UK.

International surveillance shows the UK can expect the spread of the H3N2 strain, which is known to cause more severe disease particularly in the very young and the very elderly.

It was responsible for the last severe UK flu season five years ago, resulting in around 20,000 deaths and 40,000 hospital admissions.

Experts warned this could be catastrophic for the NHS which is still trying to get to grips with the 6.84 million already waiting for treatment.

This year’s vaccine – which is being offered to a record 33 million people – is designed to fight this strain with experts confident it will give decent protection.

But they are worried vaccine fatigue could lead to people ignoring the calls to come for flu jabs and Covid boosters, which could spell disaster for the NHS.

Doctors are particularly keen for nursery and primary school children to get the flu vaccine to limit the spread and protect youngsters against severe illness.

Around 26million people in England are eligible for the autumn Covid-19 booster vaccine

They warned thousands of young children have no immunity and could develop more severe symptoms than they would ordinarily.

All primary school children will be offered the nasal spray vaccine at school with secondary schools focusing on Years 7, 8 and 9 with any remaining vaccine offered to Years 10 and 11.

It will also be rolled out to all over-50s, care home residents, pregnant women, frontline health and social care staff, people aged six months to 49 with a specified health condition and the families of people with weakened immune systems.

Around 26million people in England are also eligible for the autumn Covid-19 booster vaccine, including care home residents, over-50s and children age five and older who are clinically at risk.

Some three million doses have been given so far with those eligible urged to book online or by calling 119. Those aged 50 to 64 who are not in an at-risk group, will be able to get one later this autumn.

People who qualify for both could be offered the flu and Covid jab at the same time if supply allows, at either their GP surgery or pharmacies offering an NHS vaccine service.

Health leaders warned there are early indications that Covid rates are beginning to rise ahead of winter, which could result in hospitals filling up and adding to record waiting lists.

England’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Thomas Waite said: ‘Vaccines have saved many lives over the years for both flu and more recently Covid.

‘But we must not be complacent – infections will rise once again this winter, so it’s really important people get both their Covid and flu vaccines if eligible.’

NHS director for vaccinations and screening Steve Russell said: ‘This winter could be the first time we see the effects of the so-called ‘twindemic’ with both Covid and flu in full circulation, so it is vital that those most susceptible to serious illness from these viruses come forward for vaccines in order to protect themselves and those around them.’

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