Delegates on the final day of the Public Health England (PHE) conference, being held at Warwick University today, heard that a more effective flu vaccine for those aged 65 and over this winter has the potential to prevent deaths and significantly reduce the burden on the NHS.
The new vaccine comes as records show there were at least 227 admissions to hospital intensive care units across the South East due to influenza last flu season (2017/18), compared to 49 admissions the previous season (2016/17). Throughout the 2017/18 season, intensive care unit admissions were seen particularly amongst older adults.
Nationally, the vaccine, available for the first time this year in the UK for those aged 65 and over, could reduce GP consultations due to flu by 30,000, hospitalisations by over 2000 and prevent over 700 deaths in England, alleviating some of the health burden that seasonal flu places on the population, workplaces and the NHS.
Across the South East, hundreds of thousands of people aged over 65 are set to benefit from the improved vaccine, with 72.6% (1,27,467) of people in this age group taking up the offer of flu vaccine in the region last flu season.
The newly available ‘adjuvanted’ vaccine is expected to significantly boost effectiveness by improving the body’s immune response to the vaccine. This is important because typically older adults’ bodies do not respond as well to the flu vaccine due to their naturally weaker immune systems. Older adults are also more likely to suffer complications from flu.
The broader flu vaccination programme will also be improved by offering eligible adults under 65, including pregnant women and those with long term health conditions a ‘quadrivalent’ vaccine in injected form, which protects against two strains of flu A and two strains of flu B. Last year, adults either received the trivalent or quadrivalent vaccine.
The quadrivalent vaccine contains two strains of Flu A and two strains of Flu B, as recommended by WHO. The main strains that circulated last winter were Flu A(H3N2), which largely affects older people, and Flu B.
PHE is in particular encouraging pregnant women; no matter how many weeks along they are, to get their vaccine from their GP, pharmacist or midwife this winter to protect them and their baby. Last year vaccine uptake was 47% in women who were expecting.
Dr Alison Barnett, Interim Centre Director for PHE South East, said:
“Our figures show that flu is not to be underestimated – every winter the virus makes hundreds of people seriously ill in the South East. While we can never fully predict how the virus will affect the population each year, the best protection we have against it is the flu vaccine.
“This is why we’re scaling up the programme this year by giving additional protection to all eligible adults and offering it to more children.
“I encourage anyone who is eligible to take up the offer of their free vaccine; it is there to protect you and the rest of your family from a potentially very serious illness.”
The vaccination programme will also be improved by extending the nasal spray vaccine offering to primary school children in year 5 (650,000 extra children), meaning the vaccine will be offered to children in years reception, 1, 2,3, 4 and 5. The programme will eventually roll out to all primary school children.
Children tend to be ‘super spreaders’ of flu, so protecting them is crucial for protecting the rest of the population.
Dr Shahed Ahmad, Medical Director for Hampshire Thames Valley NHS England South East Region, said:
“Last winter we saw a particularly harmful flu season and it placed a very serious burden on NHS resources. We know this year that staff will continue to do a fantastic job to ‘Help us Help You’ and minimise the spread of flu and help those who are most vulnerable to the virus. Health and social care workers are also urged to take up the vaccine to protect themselves, their families and the patients they care for.”
The flu vaccine will be available from early October. PHE’s annual flu marketing campaign will launch 8 October and will target at risk audiences including pregnant women, parents of children aged 2-3 and adults with long term conditions. The campaign will be one of the first to roll out under the newly launched ‘Help Us Help You’ brand. ‘Help Us Help You’ encourages people to take appropriate actions (be that getting the flu vaccination or accessing the appropriate service) to better enable the NHS to help them.
Eligible adults are encouraged to get their free vaccine from their local general practice or pharmacy before the end of November to protect themselves and their families before flu reaches its seasonal peak. It is the single best way to protect against a potentially very serious illness.
As well as getting the vaccine, practising good hand hygiene by catching coughs and sneezes in a tissue, throwing it away and washing your hands after can help limit its spread – catch it, bin it, kill it.
Regional Communications Manager
Public Health England
07789 295 811
Notes to editors
- Last flu season, flu vaccine uptake was as follows in the South East:
Uptake by eligible group
South East (%)
6 month- 65 years in an at-risk group
2 year olds
3 year olds
School aged children (reception – school year 4)
- People who are eligible for the flu vaccine this year include:
- Adults aged 65 and over
- Adults aged 18-64 with a chronic health condition
- Children aged 2-3 via their GP practice
- School children in years reception, 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5
- Pregnant women
- Health and social care workers
- Morbidly obese people
- Adults with chronic conditions need the flu vaccine because people with respiratory diseases like COPD, emphysema or asthma are seven times more likely to die if they catch flu, and people with cardiovascular problems like chronic heart disease or angina, or have had a stroke, are 11 times more likely to die. The risk is far worse for those with chronic liver disease, who are 48 times more likely to die if they get flu.
- Flu is a viral infection that is spread through coughs and sneezes. Most people recover with rest in a week, but people with chronic conditions or who are over 65 should call NHS 111. Doctors may prescribe antivirals in some cases which can help speed up recovery but is not a cure.
- There is no cure for flu. Getting the vaccine if you are eligible and practising good hand hygiene is the best way to prevent yourself from getting it.
- The flu vaccine typically becomes available in early October. The vaccine is offered through local GPs and pharmacies.
- We cannot predict with certainty which strains will circulate in the UK this winter. The WHO makes recommendations for the composition of the northern hemisphere flu vaccine every year, and this is published six months in advance to allow for vaccine production times.
- The adjuvanted aTIV vaccine which PHE and the NHS is recommending this year for people aged 65 and over was licenced for use in the UK in adults 65 and over in September 2017. It has previously been used in other countries.
Help Us Help You
- The flu campaign will consist of TV, radio and digital advertising supported by search and partnership activity and will be targeted to pregnant women, parents of children aged 2-3 and people with long-term conditions.
- Help Us Help You is a new overarching brand which unifies a family of campaigns incorporating messages about flu, staying well in winter, NHS111, pharmacy and GP extended hours.
 Green Book, Chapter 19. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/456568/2904394_Green_Book_Chapter_19_v10_0.pdf.