THE UK is set to embark on the largest flu jab campaign ever seen in a bid to beat a winter wave of illness, the health secretary has revealed.
Sajid Javid this afternoon said Brits must be vigilant as autumn and winter are favourable conditions for Covid-19 and other viruses.
Addressing MPs in the commons he said: “The best steps we can take is to get vaccines for Covid-19 and flu if we are eligible.
“And so along with Covid-19 vaccination program, the next few months will see the largest flu vaccination campaign this country has ever seen.”
Mr Javid also laid out a five-pronged strategy to keep the virus at bay as the NHS enters its seasonal surge.
It includes a vaccine booster blitz, test and trace, pumping millions into the NHS, a flu jab campaign and keeping robust border controls.
He said the government has been making progress on the road to recovery following the Covid pandemic and highlighted that current death tolls being seen in the country are ‘low compared to previous waves’.
Mr Javid expressed his concern for Covid infections and other respiratory viruses and said that kids being back at school, the changing weather and more people spending time indoors would be ideal for viruses.
In order to combat infection, he said both flu jabs and booster jabs needed to be rolled out.
So far 48.4 million Brits have had a first dose of a Covid vaccine with 44 million also having had a second.
The jabs have been proven to reduce your risk of severe illness and death from Covid-19 and Mr Javid also added that 99 per cent of Covid deaths currently being recorded are in those who have not had a vaccine.
“The NHS is preparing to offer booster doses from next week. The NHS will contact you and this will help to protect the most vulnerable through the winter months”, he said.
He explained that this winter there will also be increased demand on the NHS due to illnesses like the flu and norovirus.
“We are carefully but cautiously getting the nation back to normal life and will protect the progress we have all made together”, he added.
Mr Javid said that flu is a ‘significant risk’ this year as there wasn’t much of it around last year as Covid dominated.
He explained: “There is a lot less natural immunity around in our communities and the flu vaccine itself, the flu vaccine not just in the UK but being deployed across Europe, has less efficacy than normal but it is still effective.
“It is still a very worthwhile vaccine and that’s why we will be trying to maximise uptake.
“As I said, the biggest rollout programme and communication programme this country has ever seen for the flu vaccine.”
England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam also warned of a “bumpy” winter.
At a Downing Street press conference, he said vaccines had been “incredibly successful” and had so far prevented an estimated 24 million Covid-19 cases and 112,000 deaths.
“But we also know that this pandemic is still active. We are not past the pandemic, we are in an active phase still.
“We know that this winter could quite possibly be bumpy at times and we know that other respiratory viruses such as flu and RSV are highly likely to make their returns.”
Coronavirus booster jabs may be given to people over the age of 50 at the same time as flu jabs, Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has said.
She told a Downing Street briefing: “The data reviewed showed that giving the booster jabs with flu vaccines at the same time is safe and does not affect an individual’s immune response to either vaccine.
“Therefore, Covid-19 booster doses may be given at the same time as flu vaccines.
“We have in place a comprehensive safety strategy for monitoring the safety of all Covid-19 vaccines, and this surveillance includes the booster jabs.”
WINTER IS COMING
The news on the rollout of the flu programme come as vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi today confirmed that “contingency plans” are in place to bring back restrictions if necessary.
But he also expressed confidence the booster jab programme plus a massive flu vaccination drive will stave off another lockdown.
Asked about the possibility of more restrictions, Mr Zahawi said today: “Lockdowns would be an absolutely last resort.
“We’re about to embark on a massive booster campaign and of course a flu vaccination programme.”
He added: “I am concerned about flu. We haven’t had much flu circulating anywhere in the world and in a bad year we could lose up to 25,000 people to flu.
“The important thing to remember is that, as we embark on the winter months, viruses have an inbuilt advantage, whether it be flu or the Covid virus.
“It would be foolhardy to think this thing has already transitioned from pandemic to endemic.”
We pay for your stories!
Do you have a story for The Sun news desk?