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UK plans biggest flu programme with free vaccines for millions

With the nation getting closer to normal life, we must learn to live with COVID-19 alongside other viruses and we're offering the free flu jab to millions more people to help keep them safe this winter.

July 17, 2021 / 06:55 PM IST

UK's Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid on Saturday announced that millions of more people will be offered a free flu vaccine this year as part of the British government's most comprehensive flu vaccination programme in history to help back up the coronavirus fight.

From September, the National Health Service (NHS) will offer the flu vaccine to over 35 million people in the UK during the upcoming winter season, including all secondary school students for the first time. This takes last year's expanded flu programme further and will back up any COVID-19 booster jab process.

Flu can be a serious illness and we want to build a wall of protection by immunising a record number of people, said Javid. With the nation getting closer to normal life, we must learn to live with COVID-19 alongside other viruses and we're offering the free flu jab to millions more people to help keep them safe this winter.

The phenomenal scale of the COVID-19 vaccination programme is a clear demonstration of the positive impact vaccination can make and I encourage all those eligible to get their flu jab when called forward, he said. According to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), four in five (80.9 percent) people aged 65 and over in England received their flu vaccine in 2020 exceeding the World Health Organisation (WHO) uptake ambition of 75 percent.

Working with the NHS, the department said it is preparing to deliver the expanded flu programme alongside any booster programme for COVID-19 vaccines as part of wider autumn and winter planning, which centres around protecting as many lives as possible.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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During the 2021/22 season, which starts in September, the flu jab will be available to all children aged two and three on August 31; all children in primary school and all children in school aged between 10 and 15 in secondary school; those aged six months to under 50 years in clinical health risk groups; pregnant women; those aged 50 years and over; unpaid carers; close contacts of immunocompromised individuals with health conditions; and frontline health and adult social care staff.

NHS staff across England vaccinated record numbers of people against flu last year a potentially fatal illness and they continue to pull out all the stops to deliver the biggest and most successful NHS COVID-19 vaccination programme in health history, protecting their patients and communities, said Dr Nikita Kanani, NHS medical director for primary care. Getting your free flu vaccine if you are eligible as well as keeping up good habits like regularly washing your hands could help save your life, so please do come forward when you are invited to give you and your loved ones vital protection this winter, she said.

Alongside this flu drive, the government is preparing for a booster programme of COVID-19 vaccines and the Joint Committee on Vaccination (JCVI) and Immunisation has published interim advice on who would be prioritised for a possible third vaccine from September 2021. The booster programme, which would be designed to ensure millions of people most vulnerable to COVID-19 continue to have the protection they need ahead of the winter and against new variants, will be informed by the JCVI's final advice expected in the coming weeks, based on the pandemic data.

Dr Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director at Public Health England, added: The flu vaccine is safe, effective and protects millions of people each year from what can be a devastating illness. Last winter, flu activity was extremely low, but this is no reason for complacency as it means less people have built up a defence against the virus. Combined with the likelihood that COVID-19 will still be circulating, this makes the coming flu season highly unpredictable.

We will be preparing for a challenging winter by expanding our world-leading flu vaccination programme to over 35 million people, saving more lives and limiting the impact on the NHS and social care, Doyle said. The DHSC said as a result of non-pharmaceutical interventions in place for COVID-19, such as mask-wearing, physical and social distancing, and restricted international travel, flu levels were lower than expected across the world in 2020/21.

It is possible there will be higher levels of flu this winter, with more of the population susceptible given the low levels last season.
PTI
first published: Jul 17, 2021 06:55 pm

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