- Urges everyone who is eligible — including high-risk groups, pregnant women and people 50 or older — to get a free flu shot
- Many schoolchildren and 2- and 3-year-old preschoolers are eligible for the flu nasal spray vaccine
- England has met UKHSA targets leading to the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Pharmaceutical Officer authorizing the prescribing of antivirals in primary care based on the pre-pandemic season
- Influenza is now spreading at higher levels than in recent seasons
With cases rising to the highest level since the pandemic, everyone who is eligible for a flu shot is being urged to come forward.
So far this year, flu vaccinations among eligible groups have been similar to past years, although pre-school children, pregnant women and health and social care workers are particularly in need of vaccinations.
Emergency department flu visits and hospital admissions increased last week, according to the latest figures from the UKHSA. Influenza now has a higher rate of intensive care admissions than Covid.
Week of November 14-20, 2022:
- The flu hospitalization rate increased to 24 per million from 15 in the previous week. The highest rate is among those under the age of 5, followed by those over the age of 75. The Covid rate is 44 cases per million population.
- Intensive care and intensive care for the flu increased to 21 per 10 million people, compared with 13 per 10 million people the week before. The rate is highest among those under the age of 5, followed by those over the age of 65. The Covid rate is 17 infections per 10 million population.
2- and 3-year-olds are eligible for the flu nasal spray vaccine, and parents and guardians are also urged to make an appointment to ensure younger age groups are protected.
With both flu and Covid cases circulating this winter, it is also important that everyone who is eligible gets both vaccines as soon as possible.
Due to increased levels of influenza circulating in the community, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has advised that antiviral drugs can now be prescribed in primary care.
Patients who are eligible for antiviral drugs if they have influenza include clinically high-risk groups and anyone at risk of severe illness and complications from influenza if left untreated. This includes people in groups who develop flu-like symptoms, and those who have been exposed to flu-like illness from people they live with, including nursing home residents.
As happened during the pre-pandemic flu season, following advice from UKHSA, the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Pharmaceuticals Officer have alerted the NHS that the healthcare system can now prescribe and supply antiviral drugs for community-acquired cases of influenza.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said:
Both the flu and the new coronavirus are circulating. We are currently seeing higher than usual rates of flu for this time of year.
It is important that eligible individuals get their flu vaccine as soon as possible. Vaccines are the best defense against these viruses. The most effective way is to get vaccinated before the virus spreads at a very high rate.
With flu cases rising and to protect the most vulnerable – in line with pre-COVID flu season – eligible people most at risk of flu complications can now be given in primary care settings such as GPs and pharmacies Prescribe antiviral drugs.
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said:
The flu is a serious virus, and while we haven’t seen the number of cases we’ve been used to over the past few years, this season it’s starting to spread in large numbers.
Thankfully, we have the tools to protect those most vulnerable to flu. Over 17 million doses of flu vaccine have been administered in England this season as a result of our excellent vaccination campaign.
To all those eligible who have not yet come to get their free flu and Covid winter vaccines, please don’t delay getting vaccinated. It couldn’t be easier.
In England, the first weekly winter update showed an average of 344 flu patients were hospitalized each day last week, more than ten times the number in early December.
In October, a new national marketing campaign was launched urging millions of eligible people to get a flu and Covid booster vaccine to boost immunity.
Building on the success of the 2021/22 Covid vaccination campaign, which emphasized that the protection provided by vaccines wanes over time, everyone who is eligible should get both vaccines ahead of a tough winter. Enhance immunity.
Dr Mary Ramsay, Director of Immunization and Programs, UKHSA:
Our surveillance shows a recent increase in laboratory and clinical indicators of influenza in England, particularly NHS emergency department visits, hospital admissions and intensive care. In addition to the elderly, flu rates are also rising rapidly in young children. Vaccinations are still important and I urge everyone who is eligible to take this offer.
Flu antiviral drugs are effective in keeping people out of the hospital and preventing the virus from spreading to other more vulnerable family members. Now that we are seeing an increase in influenza, it is imperative that GPs consider the possibility of influenza in respiratory patients and use antivirals according to national guidelines, especially if they rule out COVID-19.
NHS National Medical Director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said:
The first weekly figures for this year show that as we head into what could be the most challenging winter in NHS history, flu is already with us, with hundreds of hospital beds already being filled by flu patients every day.
Influenza can be very serious for many people, so pharmacies and GPs can now prescribe antivirals for those most at risk of complications to help people avoid hospital treatment.
But the best way for those who qualify to protect themselves is to get vaccinated now – there are thousands of sites across the country offering flu and COVID-19 vaccinations, so if you haven’t already, do so now.
An alert about flu antivirals has been issued to primary care providers such as GPs and community pharmacies in England.
The Department of Health and Social Care continues to work closely with manufacturers of antiviral medicines used to treat influenza to monitor stocks and ensure there are sufficient supplies of these medicines to meet UK demand.
Antiviral drug prescribing and supply in primary care was in line with NICE guidelines.
Antiviral medicines do not help prevent you from getting the flu like vaccines do, but they can reduce the severity of the illness if you get treated early.
Secondary care facilities can readily prescribe antiviral drugs for patients with suspected seasonal influenza infection. In primary care, once community transmission of influenza is confirmed, antiviral drugs can be prescribed, if untreated, for patients in “clinical high-risk groups” and for anyone at risk of severe illness and/or influenza complications.
The alert follows advice from UKHSA, which monitors the level of influenza transmission in the community based on a range of different indicators. This includes the number of people who have tested positive for influenza, the number of reported ARD outbreaks, hospital admissions and GP visits for influenza-like illness.
The alert can be found here: https://www.cas.mhra.gov.uk/ViewandAcknowledgment/ViewAlert.aspx?AlertID=103217
A link to the latest weekly UKHSA National Flu and Covid Surveillance Report can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/national-flu-and-covid-19-surveillance-reports-published