All those eligible for a flu shot have been urged to apply as cases have risen to levels not seen since before the pandemic.
So far this year, uptake of the flu vaccine in eligible groups is similar to what has happened in the past two years, although there is a particular need for preschool children, pregnant women and those in the health and social care workforce to accept the offer.
The latest UKHSA data shows there have been jumps in flu emergency department attendance and hospital admissions in the past week. The admission rate to intensive care is now higher for influenza than it is for Covid.
In the week of November 14-20, 2022:
- The rate of hospitalizations for influenza rose to 24 per million inhabitants, compared to 15 per million in the previous week. The highest rates were in the under 5 years followed by the 75 plus years group. The Covid rate was 44 per million inhabitants.
- Intensive care and high dependency care for influenza increased to 21 per 10 million population, compared to 13 per 10 million population in the previous week. The highest rates were in the under 5 years followed by the 65 years plus group. The rate of Covid was 17 per 10 million inhabitants.
Those between the ages of 2 and 3 are eligible for the nasal spray flu shot, with parents and guardians also urged to book appointments to ensure the younger age group is protected.
With both flu and Covid cases circulating this winter, it’s also imperative that all eligible people get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Due to the increase in levels of influenza circulating in the community, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has recommended that it is now appropriate to prescribe antivirals in primary care settings.
People who are eligible to get antivirals if they have influenza include patients in high-risk groups as well as anyone who is at risk of serious illness and complications from influenza if they are not treated. This includes people in those groups who develop symptoms of influenza and those who have been exposed to flu-like illnesses from someone they live with, including residents of care homes.
As in flu seasons before the pandemic, following the UKHSA’s recommendation, the Chief Medical Officer together with the Chief Pharmacy Officer issued an alert to the NHS notifying the healthcare system that antivirals can now be prescribed and provided for community acquisition cases. flu.
Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty said:
Flu and covid both spread. We are currently experiencing higher rates of influenza at this time of year than usual.
It is important that eligible people get the flu vaccine as soon as possible. Vaccines are the best defense against these viruses. The most effective way is to get vaccinated before it spreads at too high a rate.
With flu cases on the rise and in order to protect the most vulnerable – in line with pre-COVID flu seasons, antivirals can now be prescribed in primary care settings such as general practitioners and pharmacies for those who qualify most at risk of complications from influenza. “
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said:
Influenza is a dangerous virus, and although we haven’t seen the number of cases we used to in the past couple of years, it has started to circulate at high levels this season.
Fortunately, we have the tools to protect those most vulnerable to the flu. Thanks to our fantastic vaccination campaign, more than 17 million flu vaccines have already been administered in England this season.
For all those eligible who have not yet applied for the free winter flu and Covid vaccinations, please do not delay in applying for the vaccine. It couldn’t be easier than that.”
In England, the first weekly update for the winter shows there were an average of 344 patients per day with flu in hospital last week, more than ten times the number seen at the start of December last year.
In October, a new marketing campaign was launched across the country urging millions of eligible people to get flu and Covid booster vaccines to boost their immunity.
Building on the success of the 2021/22 COVID-19 vaccination campaign, the campaign stressed that the protection provided by vaccines diminishes over time, so every eligible person should boost their immunity by getting both vaccines before a difficult winter.
Dr Mary Ramsey, UKHSA Director of Immunization and Programs:
Our surveillance shows recent increases in laboratory and clinical indicators of influenza across England, in particular NHS emergency department attendance, hospitalization and intensive care. Along with the elderly, flu rates are rising rapidly in younger children. Vaccination continues to be critical and I urge everyone who qualifies to accept the offer.
Influenza antivirals are effective in helping to keep people out of the hospital and to prevent the spread of the virus to family members and families at risk. Now that we are seeing an increase in influenza, it is important that GPs consider the potential for influenza in respiratory patients and use antivirals in line with national guidance, particularly if they rule out COVID-19. “
Professor Sir Stephen Boyce, National Medical Director for the NHS, said:
The first weekly data this year shows that flu is already with us as we enter what could be the toughest winter in NHS history, with hundreds of beds a day already occupied by flu patients.
Flu can be very dangerous for many people, so pharmacies and GPs will now be able to prescribe antivirals to people most at risk of complications to help people avoid needing hospital care.
But the best way for eligible people to protect themselves is to get vaccinated without delay – there are thousands of locations across the country that offer flu and virus vaccines, so please book today if you haven’t already.”
The alert regarding antiviral influenza medicines has been issued to primary care settings including GPs and community pharmacies in England.
The Department of Health and Social Care continues to work closely with manufacturers of antiviral medicines, used to treat influenza, to monitor stocks and ensure that sufficient supplies of these medicines are available to meet UK demand.
Prescribing and providing antivirals in primary care settings is in line with NICE guidance.
Antivirals don’t work as well as the vaccine to help prevent you from getting the flu, but they can reduce the severity of the disease if you’re treated early.
Antivirals may be prescribed at any time in the secondary care setting for patients with suspected seasonal influenza infection. In primary care, once it is confirmed that influenza is circulating in the community, antivirals can be prescribed to patients in “clinical risk groups” as well as anyone who is at risk of serious illness and/or complications from influenza if untreated.
This alert is issued based on advice from the UK Health Service (UKHSA), which monitors the level of influenza circulating in the community based on a range of different indicators. This includes the number of positive tests for influenza, the number of reported acute respiratory outbreaks, hospitalizations, and the number of GP consultations for a flu-like illness.
The alert can be found here: https://www.cas.mhra.gov.uk/ViewandAcknowledgment/ViewAlert.aspx?AlertID=103217
A link to the UKHSA’s latest weekly report on national influenza and Covid surveillance can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/national-flu-and-covid-19-surveillance-reports-published