Flu vaccinations hold the key to staving off the winter surge, however 1 in 5 do not know who is eligible and 2 in 5 are unaware how to book
While 35 million are eligible for a flu vaccine this year, lack of public knowledge puts a potential 7 million at risk of missing out
- In response to concerns around the flu jab’s effectiveness against 2021 strains, GP urges all who are eligible to get vaccinated
- 20% of people get the flu each year, with deaths amounting to 25,000 each year
- Despite the NHS preparing their largest flu vaccination campaign in history, 1 in 5 are still unaware who is eligible for a flu vaccine. This puts a potential 7 million eligible patients at risk of missing their jab
- A study of over 74,000 Covid patients revealed that flu vaccinations may offer partial protection against a number of Covid-19’s more severe health effects
- Covid patients already vaccinated against the flu were up to 58% less likely to have a stroke
The NHS is currently preparing for the largest flu vaccination programme in its history, with plans to reach over 35 million people this Autumn. However, while health providers prepare for this crucial roll out, research from healthcare management app myGP, has revealed that 1 in 5 are still unaware of who is eligible for the flu vaccine. This concerning finding puts a potential 7 million people at risk of missing out on what could be a life-saving flu jab. While 15% to 20% of the population typically contract flu each year, the NHS is expected to be under significantly higher strain this flu season. The Royal College of General Practitioners noted flu cases were 95% lower than usual in the previous season. This has resulted in reduced population immunity, with more people vulnerable to infection in 2021. Rising flu cases are not the only factor that may contribute to the NHS becoming overwhelmed later this year as, according to myGP’s study, 2 in 5 people surveyed plan to call their GP receptions for guidance on how to book a flu vaccine – a major concern as receptionists manage already over stretched services.
Dr Yasmin Razak, GP Partner at Golborne Medical and Medical Advisor to myGP, commented: ‘Recent concerns in the press around the flu jab’s effectiveness simply highlights the importance of getting the vaccine. Life is unpredictable and we have a collective duty to protect one another. A less effective vaccine means a higher uptake is necessary to support those who are either at risk or not eligible for a flu vaccine. I’m urging people not to be complacent and gamble their health. It’s likely someone you know has only avoided a hospital stay or worse thanks to a flu vaccination. While there is annual data on those who have died from the flu, countless people will have averted a similar fate because they, and those around them, received their annual jab. Full population coverage is needed to protect the most vulnerable groups in our society and the most effective way to achieve this is by getting vaccinated.
You should never underestimate the role clear public communication plays in the roll out of health campaigns like the annual flu vaccination. Eligibility in 2021 encompasses a much wider group than that of 2019. In fact, the flu jab target for this winter is almost double that of last year. There needs to be clear communication and simple booking options to ensure eligible members of the public don’t miss out. I’ve noticed in my patients that they prefer being contacted by a trusted and informative booking system. myGP is simple, easy to access and incredibly NHS friendly – a good solution for our patients to book their essential vaccinations. Using technology like myGP will help us better prepare for this year’s unprecedented flu season.’
Tobias Alpsten, CEO at myGP, added: ‘We have supported the NHS over the last 14 years in managing their annual flu vaccination programmes. GP practices can use our SMS communications to share information while patients can book their vaccination at the touch of a button through our app. We know just how important communication can be during times of uncertainty. Our team worked hand in glove with the NHS throughout COVID to provide secure, precise messaging and this flu season is no different. It’s key that all those who are eligible have clear instruction on how to schedule their flu vaccination.’
As those over 50 continue to wait for clarity on covid booster jabs, new findings may encourage some to book their flu vaccine in an effort to keep certain Covid-19 complications at bay. A recently published study by the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine has shown that the flu vaccine may offer vital protection against a number of Covid-19’s more severe effects. A host of the virus’ most serious outcomes including sepsis, stroke, deep vein thrombosis, visits to emergency departments, and ICU admissions were mitigated by the flu vaccine. While the risk of death is not reduced by the flu vaccine, those who had received their flu vaccination were up to 58% less likely to have a stroke and up to 45% less likely to develop sepsis. The study went on to suggest that, with the usual caveat of further research needed, the benefits of the flu vaccine were not simply limited to those unvaccinated against Covid-19: ‘Even patients who have already received SARS-CoV-2 vaccination may stand to benefit given that the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine does not convey complete immunity.’
2021 Flu Vaccine Eligibility
The NHS flu vaccine is available to:
- Adults aged 50 years and over
- Children aged 2 and 3 on 31 August 2021
- Children in primary school
- Children in Years 7 to 11 in secondary school
- Close contacts of immunocompromised individuals
- Frontline health and adult social care staff
- Pregnant women
- Those aged 6 months to under 50 years who are in clinical risk groups
- Unpaid carers
Flu Confusion – Case Study
It can be hard for people to tell if they are suffering from flu or from Covid-19 – with some symptoms appearing for both viruses. Similarities between Covid-19 and flu can cause confusion, putting individuals at risk of incorrect self-diagnosis.
Dr Razak noted: ‘As flu and COVID have a number of similar symptoms, it can be difficult for people to tell which illness they have. As COVID restrictions shift, with isolation periods decreasing and social movement increasing, it is vital to remember that COVID isn’t the only contagious virus prevalent during the winter months. Flu can be very serious for those in at-risk groups, and I sincerely hope the last 18 months has taught us the importance of not only getting vaccinated but also keeping our space and staying away from others if feeling unwell. If we can apply this logic to flu, and everyone who is eligible gets their vaccine, there is every hope that we can reduce the strain on the NHS this winter’
With 75% of adults in the UK now double vaccinated against Covid-19, Ministers are concerned that those who test negative for Covid-19 will not realise they have flu and, inadvertently, put others at risk of infection. A study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology found that those who are simultaneously infected with flu and Covid-19 are almost twice as likely to die as those solely infected by Covid-19. For many, the numerous similarities between flu and Covid-19, and reports of inaccurate lateral flow tests, mean they are reliant on a loss of taste or smell to identify which illness they have contracted. However, while this is a common indicator of Covid-19, not all who are infected will develop this symptom.
Alex D from Sunderland notes how her symptoms, which began the day after the Euros semi-final, initially seemed no different from previous flu infections:
I woke up with a headache and a runny nose, I felt very tired. At first, I wondered if it was a hangover from a few glasses of wine the night before, but then I started to get more flu symptoms such as a heavy head, and tiredness. I told my partner and my friends who thought it was also flu symptoms.
Fortunately, her company conducted routine testing and it was through this that she discovered the truth:
We take routine lateral flow tests twice a week for work, I also wanted to rule out COVID as I had a hen do and wedding in the next week.
[On testing positive] Nervous and shocked I scheduled a PCR test straight away and called my partner to tell him he had to come home from work. As my symptoms were not severe, it felt like more of an inconvenience at first. I was shocked at my symptoms as I wouldn’t have taken a test had it not been for the factors above given it felt like a flu.
Don’t rule COVID out. Any symptoms of feeling unwell, it is worth it to get tested and be sure to ensure you don’t put anyone at risk. I don’t normally get the flu vaccine, if it was available to me then I would consider it.
SERV_INT_2029_Flu_vs_Covid_Booklet_A5_WEB.pdf (cnwl.nhs.uk) Accessed August 2021
Biggest flu programme in history to roll out for winter 2021 – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) Accessed August 2021
Is the UK in for a bumper flu season this winter? | Flu | The Guardian Accessed August 2021
Flu shot protects against severe effects of COVID-19, study finds — ScienceDaily Accessed August 2021
Interactions between SARS-CoV-2 and influenza, and the impact of coinfection on disease severity: a test-negative design | International Journal of Epidemiology | Oxford Academic (oup.com) Accessed August 2021