DEATHS from flu could reach 60,000 this winter after lockdowns and social distancing saw immunity plummet, health bosses have warned.
It is thought the UK could see the worst fatality rate in 50 years as Brits’ ability to fight the bug has been weakened after orders to stay at home.
Deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, said: “Not many people got flu last year because of Covid restrictions, so there isn’t as much natural immunity as usual.
“We will see flu circulate this winter; it might be higher than usual and that makes it a significant public health concern.”
He added: “It is really important that people get their vaccines as soon as they can.”
Many viruses – including flu, RSV and norovirus – spread more during the cold months.
Health officials fear that flu deaths this year could be highest since 1968 when the Hong Kong flu swept across the UK.
A study published earlier this year from the Academy of Medical Sciences, it was feared 60,000 people could lose their lives – compared to the yearly average of 11,000.
And with lower immunity due to lockdowns, offices and schools returning, and no more Covid restrictions, it is thought the NHS could quickly become strained as the service must also deal with Covid patients.
To prevent this, at-risk groups are now being urged to get their flu jab and Covid booster shots as soon as possible.
The Department of Health launched a winter vaccines campaign to encourage everyone to get protected.
It includes a video featuring TV medics Dr Dawn Harper and Dr Amir Khan, who warned: “Both viruses have the potential to cause serious illness and hospitalisation this winter.”
The highest risk groups are the same as those in the original Covid rollout, topped by the over-50s and clinically vulnerable, and a record 35million people will be eligible for a free jab with 30m getting boosters.
However, scientists don’t know how well the flu vaccines will work this year – they usually base them on strains circulating in Australia’s winter but there haven’t been any major outbreaks.
Dr Jenny Harries, chief of the UK Health Security Agency, said: “We are facing a challenging winter but we can all help ourselves and those around us by taking up the Covid-19 booster and flu vaccine, if eligible.”
Caroline Abrahams, director of Age UK, added: “This year it’s more important than ever to take up the offer of a flu jab and Covid-19 booster.
“Both illnesses are capable of taking a terrible toll on an older person but being vaccinated will help keep you, and those around you, safe and well through the winter… Brinkwire Brief News.