The NHS is preparing for a “very significant” flu vaccination drive this winter, with people potentially given Covid boosters and flu jabs at the same time, Matt Hancock has said.
The Health Secretary said he expects this winter to be “challenging”, adding that he hoped further lockdown restrictions would not be needed.
“We are worried about flu this winter because people’s natural immunity will be lower because we haven’t had any serious flu for 18 months now,” he told Times Radio.
“We had a difficult winter in 2019, we didn’t have flu at all really this last winter because of the restrictions that were in place for Covid, so it is something we are worried about.
“We are going to have a very significant flu vaccination drive this autumn – potentially at the same time, you might get your Covid booster jab and your flu jab at the same time, we are testing whether that can be done.
“We do need to make sure we protect the NHS this coming winter.
“We have got time to do the preparation for that now, though, and make sure we are as vaccinated as possible, because that is the way to keep people safe.”
On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Hancock said there were no other communicable diseases last winter “in any serious size at all” other than Covid.
“Almost nobody has had flu now for 18 months in this country, obviously that’s a good thing, but it does mean that the flu vaccination programme this autumn will be even more important,” he said.
“Last year was the biggest ever because we wanted to protect against flu whilst we were in the grips of the Covid crisis.
“We are currently doing the work to see whether you can have the Covid booster shot and the flu jab at the same time and that will help to manage this this winter, but we do expect this winter to be challenging.”
Mr Hancock said he hoped there will not be further lockdowns in the cooler months, adding: “I hope that with the booster shot, we get that protection against Covid very, very high.”
He said the booster plus getting the flu jab to a “very, very wide proportion of people” would hopefully offer enough protection.
Mr Hancock said he wanted GPs to get back to doing their “core business”, which would mean bringing in people “like pharmacists to deliver the bulk of the vaccination programme over the autumn”.
On Monday, Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said he thought flu could be a “bigger problem” than Covid-19 this winter.
He added: “We’ve had a very, very low prevalence of flu for the last few years, particularly virtually nil during lockdown, and we do know that when flu has been circulating in very low numbers, immunity drops in the population and it comes back to bite us. So, flu can be really, really important this winter.”