Everyone has made great sacrifices to control COVID-19.
The whole country is reflecting on what has been accomplished to suppress the virus and reach a point where we can begin to regain some normalcy.
We have learned important lessons in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and there is a brilliant opportunity to ensure that these lessons can be applied in the future, with the scale and capacity necessary to save lives and protect us all and with the quick ways and innovative. from working we have developed it together.
COVID-19 has consumed much of our attention over the past 18 months, yet many other serious threats continue to stretch our health and social care services each year.
Right now, to make sure we plan for these, as well as the ongoing pandemic, our focus is on the fall and winter, making sure we prepare for the challenges this will bring, as well as ongoing monitoring throughout the summer. to detect ‘off-season’ disease spikes. would normally see later in the year.
In particular, we are concerned flu. Like COVID-19, the flu is a dangerous virus that kills thousands of people a year and hospitalizes many more, putting pressure on our health and social care services and grieving families and loved ones.
The flu is unpredictable, and flu rates vary each year. The number of deaths we see from flu-related complications each winter season can also vary significantly from year to year. For example, in 2014/15, a year of severe flu, there were 28,000 deaths. The type of flu that circulates and the ease with which it is transmitted from one person to another also varies.
The restrictions that were in place during the fall and winter of 2020/21 have meant that we didn’t see much flu circulating last season. Therefore, we fortunately avoided the dual threat of flu and COVID-19 circulating at the same time, which could have had disastrous consequences for people and for our health and care system.
However, it is concerning that this could mean that more people are susceptible to the disease this year, which could lead to a challenging flu season for our NHS colleagues and our health protection teams across the country.
This, combined with the likelihood that COVID-19 will continue to circulate, means that next winter will once again be very unpredictable. Planning is already underway to ensure that we are well prepared for the worst case scenario and to limit the impact on the NHS.
The flu vaccine is safe, effective, and protects millions of people each year from what can be a devastating illness.
That’s why, as part of our commitment to build back better after the pandemic, England’s world’s leading seasonal flu immunization program will be further expanded this year.
We have announced that a record number of children and adults will be offered the flu vaccine – more than 35 million people in total – and every 7-11 year old in high school will now be eligible for the first time, based on the expansion of the vaccination program for Year 7 children last winter.
England’s world-leading flu program achieved a usage record last year, a testament to the resilience of the NHS and the public’s determination to protect themselves and others during an unprecedented winter of challenges.
Next season, the healthcare system is determined to build on this fantastic achievement, along with the amazing success of our COVID-19 vaccination program, to ensure that more people than ever are protected from the flu.
We will be looking closely at the trial data to ensure that the flu vaccine can be administered in conjunction with COVID-19 vaccines, following the interim advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) on the delivery of a program of reinforcement of the COVID-19 September vaccine for those of the most vulnerable groups.
Getting vaccinated against both viruses will not only help protect us and our loved ones from the flu and COVID-19, but it will also help protect the nation from a potentially devastating dual threat this winter.
Another infection that worries us as we approach fall is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
RSV is a common seasonal winter virus that causes coughs and colds and is the most common cause of bronchiolitis in children younger than 2 years It can be more serious in premature babies, babies younger than 2 months, and vulnerable babies with certain underlying conditions that increase their risk of acute lower respiratory tract infection.
The RSV season in the UK typically begins in the autumn, before the adult flu season, and runs through winter.
Over the past year there has been a notable reduction in respiratory viral infections other than COVID-19. This means that there are a growing number of young children who have never been exposed to these common viruses.
As restrictions ease and people mix more, we expect to see a significant increase in the total number of RSV cases and admissions.
We are working closely with the NHS and colleagues from across the healthcare system to monitor this closely, as well as to ensure that parents, caregivers and healthcare professionals are aware of RSV symptoms and know what to do. if they are worried.
Finally, let us remember that we all can and must do our part to reduce the impact of infectious diseases on individuals, their families and their communities, while reducing the pressure on health and social care and other public services this coming winter. , so that everyone can continue to receive the support they need.
The good hygiene habits that we have become accustomed to during the COVID-19 pandemic are important defenses against a variety of other infections, including the flu and RSV. We should keep practicing them.
This includes washing our hands regularly for 20 seconds, using a tissue to catch coughs and sneezes, and staying away from others when we feel unwell.
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