Help Us Help You with flu this winter

12 September 2018

Newly available flu vaccine this winter could prevent 700 deaths, over 2000 hospitalisations and 30,000 GP consultations in those aged 65 and over in England

New vaccine becomes available as records show more than 150 patients were admitted to intensive care units in the South West last winter due to flu. 

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 152 admissions to hospital intensive care units across the South West due to influenza last flu season (2017/18), compared to just 41 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 West, hundreds of thousands of people aged over 65 are set to benefit from the improved vaccine, with 73.8% (904,546) 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 Julie Yates, Lead Consultant in  Screening and Immunisation for Public Health England South West, said:

“Our figures show that flu is not to be underestimated – every winter the virus makes hundreds of people seriously ill in the South West. While we can never fully predict how the virus will affect the population each year, the flu vaccine is the best protection we have against it.

“This is why we’re scaling up the programme this year by giving additional protection to as many eligible adults as possible and also 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 offered 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 this year. 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 Caroline Gamlin, Medical Director for NHS England in the South West, 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 to protect those who are most vulnerable to the virus. The programme has been extended again to include staff who work in social care, including those who care for people in their homes and staff working in Hospice care, and so 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. 

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