HEALTH chiefs have urged people to come forward and get their flu jabs in preparation for a potential explosion of cases.
The flu vaccine programme started in autumn but up to half of those in eligible groups have still not come forward for their dose, including pregnant women.
Dr Conall Watson, consultant epidemiologist for the UK Health Security Agency, said: “If you are eligible, it’s not too late to arrange a flu vaccine to help protect yourself and your family this winter.”
The flu jab helps prevent a person getting seriously ill when they catch the bug.
Although the NHS says the best time to have the flu vaccine is in the autumn or early winter, before flu starts spreading, it’s still valuable later in the season.
Flu cases are currently low, data shows.
Positivity – how many people tested get a positive result – is at 0.5 per cent. This compares with 30 per cent in mid-January 2020, before Covid emerged.
But Dr Watson said: “The threat of flu hasn’t gone away, and while flu levels are very low, case numbers are expected to increase as people start mixing together more freely.”
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With England’s Plan B measures dropped this week, it means people are no longer legally required to wear a face covering in public places or work from home.
These types of Covid measures have helped to stem flu cases at the same time as coronavirus over the course of the past two years.
UKHSA data shows that in England, 81.6 per cent of people 65 years old and over had their flu vaccine – a record high.
“But there are still many people in younger eligible groups – pregnant women and people with underlying medical conditions – who have not yet been vaccinated and are at risk,” Dr Watson said.
“Flu vaccines save lives.”
Just under half of those who are under 65 years old with a serious health condition have not got their flu jab.
Only 37.7 per cent of pregnant women have had their potentially life-saving flu jab, down from 43.4 per cent last year.
Some 44.9 per cent of those aged 50 to 64 who are not in a clinical risk group have gotten their jab, higher than the 30.9 per cent last year.
But UKHSA said the difference may be because vaccination of this group started three months earlier than usual this year.
Fewer children aged two and three years old have gotten their jab compared to last year.
Less than half (47.4 per cent) of all two-year olds have been vaccinated and 50 per cent of three-year-olds, compared with 54.7 per cent and 57.3 per cent, respectively, last year.
ARE YOU ELIGIBLE FOR THE FLU JAB?
The jab will be freely available to:
* All children aged two and three on 31 August 2021
* All children in primary and all children in school Years 7 to 11 in secondary school
* Those aged six months to under 50 years in clinical risk groups
* Pregnant women
* Those aged 50 years and over
* Unpaid carers
* Close contacts of immunocompromised individuals
* Frontline health and adult social care staff
Health bosses have repeatedly said that more people are likely to get flu this winter because immunity has dropped during lockdowns.
This effect has been seen with RSV – a common winter bug that affects children that can, in some cases, become very serious.
RSV infections spiked in the summer after restrictions were lifted, and, although they have rapidly come down, a charity issued a warning to parents last week to keep an eye out for symptoms in kids.
Dr Conall Watson, Consultant Epidemiologist for the UK Health Security Agency, said: “RSV is usually a winter virus, but after an unseasonal peak in August 2021, RSV hospitalisation rates are currently below usual levels for this time of year.”
Meanwhile, the NHS says: “If you get flu and Covid-19 at the same time, research shows you're more likely to be seriously ill.
“Getting vaccinated against flu and Covid-19 will provide protection for you and those around you for both these serious illnesses.”
The Covid booster vaccine programme is currently underway and opened to 16 and 17 year olds, and over 12s with a health condition, on Monday.
The top-up shots are the only decent protection against the Omicron variant, as studies have shown two doses are not enough to prevent infection.
Studies have thankfully shown that Omicron is more mild than Delta – but boosters are the key to keeping hospital rates down, and restrictions off the table.
Volunteers with The Sun's Jabs Army have been working heroically to help turbo-charge the rollout.
Data show the Omicron wave is on its way out – although cases are rising in children after a return to school.
Dr Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Advisor for the UK Health Security Agency, said: “The recent decline in community case rates and individuals requiring hospitalisation is encouraging.
“However we should not be complacent.
“I encourage everyone to get the vaccine as soon as they can, to continue testing regularly with LFDs – particularly before periods of high risk and before seeing anyone who is vulnerable – and to take a PCR test if they have symptoms.”
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