UK launches flu shot drive on fears of Covid-19 surge

The health department has launched a campaign to highlight the impact the combination of Covid and flu can have. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - The UK is mounting a drive to give 35 million people the flu shot as fears rise that respiratory illnesses will surge after months of lockdown lowered immunity levels.

Extremely low flu infection rates when people were socially distanced means deaths could rise this winter, when Covid-19 and influenza viruses will be circulating at the same time.

This marks the largest flu vaccine programme in the country's history, the Department of Health said in a statement on Friday (Oct 8).

The health department has launched a campaign to highlight the impact the combination of Covid and flu can have and encourage those eligible to book free flu vaccines and Covid booster shots as soon as possible.

This is in part to help ease pressure on the National Health Service.

There is concern that a spike in coronavirus cases in the next few months could coincide with a resurgence of flu.

Colder weather and reduced daylight may spur transmission because of increased social contact indoors where there is reduced ventilation.

"We are facing a challenging winter, but we can all help ourselves and those around us," said Ms Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency. "Getting vaccinated against both viruses will not only help to protect us and our loved ones, but will also help protect the NHS from potential strain."

A survey carried about by the Department of Health pointed to a particular lack of understanding about influenza. Of the 3,000 respondents, one in five said they were unaware the illness could spread through coughs and sneezes, or that it can live on hands and surfaces.

Yet confidence in vaccines remains high, with 83 per cent of fully-vaccinated people saying they would get the Covid booster shot if offered. Two-thirds of all respondents said they were likely to get a flu shot.

Britain began offering Covid boosters to people age 50 and over and other vulnerable groups last month.

Giving both vaccines at the same appointment would make it easier for patients and the health service, officials have said.

A UK study released a week ago showed that it's safe to get the shots together.

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