The public are being reminded to come forward for their flu jab to maximise their protection ahead of winter.
Health officials are concerned because this will be the first winter in which Covid and flu both circulate fully.
According to research, people who are infected with both viruses are more than twice as likely to die as people who are only infected with Covid.
This year, more than 40 million people in the UK – 35 million in England – will be offered a flu vaccine as part of the largest flu vaccination campaign to date.
For the first time, this includes all secondary-school students up to the age of 16.
In addition to the extended flu campaign, over-50s and younger adults with health conditions will be offered a Covid booster jab this autumn and winter.
Dr Jenny Harries, head of the newly formed UK Health Security Agency, warned that flu immunity was likely to be lower this winter because the virus was circulating so little last year due to social isolation and lockdown.
“It’s critical that people get vaccinated,” she said.
“This is the first winter where we will have seasonal flu and Covid co-circulating.”
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Prof Wendy Barclay, professor of virology at Imperial College London, told the BBC’s Today Programme that because cases were so low last year, determining which flu strains to cover with this year’s vaccine had been more difficult.
“This year’s vaccine has been updated to match what we anticipate will be the circulating strains,” she explained.
Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, stated that “we need to take this seriously and defend ourselves” by taking the vaccines when offered.
“Both of these viruses are dangerous: they can both spread quickly, cause hospitalisation, and be fatal,” he said.
Flu kills approximately 11,000 people in England each winter on average, but during the previous bad flu winter of 2017-18, the toll was more than double that, with more than 300 deaths per day at its peak.
Flu and other winter viruses also cause more than 1,000 hospital admissions per day during the winter months, which is currently more than Covid.
And this winter, respiratory illness could hit very high levels, causing severe strain on the NHS and up to 60,000 deaths, according to a report from the Academy of Medical Sciences.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the leading cause of hospitalisation in children under the age of five, is already circulating at much higher than normal levels.
The winter warning comes as the government launches an advertising campaign starring TV doctors Dr Amir Khan, Dr Dawn Harper, and Dr Karan Ranj to encourage those who are eligible to get flu and Covid booster shots.
The following groups are among those eligible for winter vaccines:
- over-50s (Covid booster and flu jab)
- younger people with health conditions (Covid booster and flu jab)
- health and care workers (Covid booster and flu jab)
- pregnant women (flu jab)
- two- to 16-year-olds (nasal flu jab)
- at risk infants aged six months to two years (flu jab)
Patients who are eligible for the free NHS flu vaccine will be contacted by their GPs, and those who are not will be able to book an appointment at a pharmacy.
People who are eligible for the coronavirus booster are being advised to wait until they are contacted.
Anyone who is not eligible for a free flu vaccine can get one privately at many pharmacies for around £15.