20 December 2021
By Roger Kennedy
Winter is here, which means Flu season is upon us. Does this year look any different? Let’s have a closer look
In order to bring the Covid epidemic under control, the United Kingdom is relying on coronavirus vaccines. However, scientists warn that another virus, influenza, could resurface and strike us hard during the autumn and winter months.
Will This Flu Season Be Tough?
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Flu seasons are particularly bad when virulent strains of the virus come into contact with people who have little or no immunity to the virus. Because of lockdowns and other Covid measures, the number of flu cases in the United Kingdom has been relatively low in recent years, with hardly any in the season that has just ended. This has been possible because of the widespread use of lockdowns and other Covid measures. According to the Royal College of General Practitioners, cases of influenza in the general public were approximately 95% lower than normal during the previous season.
Because there will be so little virus in circulation, population immunity will have waned, making people more vulnerable to influenza when the world reopens and transmission resumes in earnest. Because the decision on which strains to include in the flu vaccine was based on fewer samples than usual this year, there is also greater uncertainty about the vaccine’s effectiveness.
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Seasonal flu claims the lives of approximately 7,000 people in the United Kingdom each year, with the number of infections reaching thousands of times higher. According to Prof Peter Openshaw, a member of the government’s new and emerging respiratory virus threats advisory group, reduced immunity could result in a doubling of the number of cases we would normally see during the upcoming flu and cold season. The potential impact on hospital admissions and deaths is unclear, not least because Covid has already resulted in a significant increase in the number of deaths among the elderly and the frail. Depending on the severity of the coronavirus outbreak in the United Kingdom this winter, some Covid restrictions may be reinstated, or people may choose to return to social distancing and mask-wearing on their own initiative, all of which will help to keep influenza rates down in the country.
What Does This Mean For The National Health Service?
The healthcare system is always under strain during the winter months, and influenza can be a significant contributor to the increase in the number of people who require hospitalisation. If influenza returns to the country at the same time as the country is experiencing a resurgence of coronavirus, there is a risk that the NHS will be overwhelmed.
“Influenza is one to watch out for this winter,” Pharmacist Stuart Gale from Oxford Online Pharmacy tells TheCork.ie.
It is possible that the NHS will need to separate flu patients from Covid patients in order to provide them with different treatments. When patients are admitted to the hospital, the antiviral flu drug oseltamivir is given as soon as possible to maximise its effectiveness. “The problem you’ll have if you have coronavirus and flu at the same time is that you won’t know who the flu guys are. “You don’t have time to wait for test results; you have to administer oseltamivir immediately,” explains Dr John McCauley, director of the Worldwide Influenza Centre at the Francis Crick Institute in London.
A possible solution, according to McCauley, is to start people on oseltamivir as soon as there is any suspicion that they have flu and then stop the treatment once a flu test comes back negative. Another source of concern is that some patients may be suffering from both flu and Covid at the same time, increasing their risk of death by nearly twofold when compared to a Covid infection alone.
What Steps Should We Take To Prepare?
People who are vulnerable to both influenza and Covid – and there is considerable overlap – should be well-protected by vaccines. Surveillance of influenza cases around the world should provide early warning of the upcoming flu season, particularly in the southern hemisphere, the Middle East, and tropical regions. In order to ensure that all adults have the opportunity to receive two shots of Covid vaccine before the flu season begins, the NHS intends to replicate last year’s extended flu vaccination programme, which made flu shots available to everyone aged 50 and over, as well as children and the usual at-risk groups.
Flu vaccines are not as effective as Covid vaccines – 50 percent effectiveness is considered good – but they make a significant difference in the lives of those who receive them. “When you have flu, you are on a knife’s edge. According to McCauley, “having a bad flu season is not difficult to achieve.” “Uncertainty exists at all times, and vaccination serves as an insurance policy.” You can’t afford to be unprepared in the event of a flu epidemic. It makes no difference if it doesn’t happen because vaccines are inexpensive.”
Is It Possible To Administer Covid And Flu Vaccines At The Same Time?
It is possible that some people will require Covid booster shots to maintain their immunity as the weather cools down, particularly those who received their first vaccine in December or January. If Covid boosters are administered at the same time as flu shots, it will be easier for the NHS to provide this service. Studies are currently underway to determine whether it is possible to administer both at the same time, and results are expected later this year.
“Getting flu vaccines into people is a major challenge, but it is a challenge to which the NHS consistently rises,” says Openshaw. But if they are not to be administered simultaneously, administering separate vaccines for Covid and an intensified flu vaccination campaign will be a huge challenge, according to the experts.
Although it is near impossible to predict the exact impact of this Flu season, it is safe to say that due to the impact of Covid-19 it may be more difficult than years prior. The best thing you can do is to protect yourself and your family and look after your immunity.