"Flu placed a greater burden on hospitals than COVID-19."
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is urging vulnerable groups to take up the flu vaccine this season.
Data from the previous year’s program shows it prevented approximately 25,000 hospitalisations in England.
Despite these reductions in hospitalisations, excess winter deaths attributed to the flu surpassed those caused by COVID-19 during the 2022 to 2023 season, with over 14,000 reported deaths.
Shockingly, more than 10,000 children were admitted to hospitals, surpassing the number of COVID-19 hospitalisations at the peak of the season.
Vulnerable populations, including pregnant women, young children, and individuals with chronic medical conditions are particularly susceptible to the flu.
Last year’s data revealed that the flu vaccine reduced the risk of hospitalisations by two-thirds in children.
Measures taken to control the COVID-19 pandemic nearly eliminated the spread of all flu strains until the 2022 to 2023 season when other subtypes re-emerged.
All eligible groups are encouraged to receive the flu vaccine while booking their COVID-19 autumn booster to protect themselves against the expected rise in cases as winter approaches.
Professor Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Adviser at UKHSA, emphasised the importance of vaccination, saying:
“Last year, the flu virus was estimated to be responsible for over 14,000 excess deaths and tens of thousands of hospitalisations, including over 10,000 in children.
“Last winter, the vaccine prevented an estimated 25,000 hospitalisations, but this could be even greater if all those eligible for the flu vaccine came forward this year.”
Vaccines Minister Maria Caulfield added:
“Flu placed a greater burden on hospitals than COVID-19 last year, so it’s essential that we all take part in reducing pressure on the health system by booking our COVID-19 and flu jabs as soon as possible to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe from infection.”
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Thomas Waite stressed that both flu and COVID-19 could pose significant risks this winter, making vaccination crucial.
In addition to these warnings, it’s essential to address the concerns of some individuals about the use of animal-derived products in vaccines.
All recommended flu vaccines, like many pharmaceutical products, utilise animal-derived products in their production.
Vaccination, while not compulsory in the UK, is highly recommended because it provides the best protection against a disease that can be deadly.
The Vegetarian Society encourages those at risk to continue accepting the medicines they need, including vaccination.
For individuals concerned about the animal contents in vaccines, a vegan group has produced detailed information on the various animal-derived products used in vaccines, which can be found here.
Chief Delivery Officer and National Director for Vaccinations and Screening for NHS England, Steve Russell, urged individuals to take advantage of vaccination opportunities, saying:
“The NHS is off to a flying start with its COVID-19 and flu vaccination program – with millions of people who are most at risk already receiving flu and COVID-19 vaccines since the start of the campaign, with hundreds of thousands more booked in to receive theirs this week.”
Russell further emphasised the importance of vaccination, not only for individual protection but also for reducing the strain on the NHS during the upcoming winter months.