The NHS is embarking on its biggest flu vaccination drive ever with fears deaths could be the worst for 50 years this winter due to coronavirus lockdowns and social distancing. More than 35 million across England will be offered with fears there could be up to 60,000 deaths this winter, the worst figure in Britain since the 1968 Hong Kong flu pandemic – if flu vaccine uptake is not strong this year.
Health officials and NHS leaders have warned 60,000 could die this year from flu.
In response to this dramatic figure, the Government is calling on all those eligible to get the flu vaccine to get jabbed as soon as possible.
Cases of Covid, flu and other respiratory infections are likely to surge in the coming months, experts claim – putting more pressure on the NHS and increased hospitalisations.
Deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said the lack of flu last year made the threat this winter a “significant public health concern”.
A lack of population immunity to the flu due to suppression over the past year down to coronavirus restrictions could mean an additional 15,000 to 60,000 deaths according to the Academy of Medical Sciences.
There were 52,327 deaths where Covid was mentioned on the death certificate – of which 28,794 were men and 23,533 were women between January and August 2020.
Pneumonia had the highest number of deaths of the three conditions – with 69,781 deaths reported across England and Wales.
A further 506 people died where influenza was on the death certificate.
The highest number of deaths from influenza and pneumonia from January to August 2020 was in the 85 and over age group where 8,362 people.
This compares to 20,493 people for COVID-19 from this age group.
The five year average for the flu and pneumonia is 58,331.
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ONS’ head of mortality analysis Sarah Caul said the data indicates Covid deaths were significantly higher than influenza and pneumonia.
Mr Caul said: “More than three times as many deaths were recorded between January and August this year where COVID-19 was the underlying cause compared to influenza and pneumonia.
“The mortality rate for COVID-19 is also significantly higher than influenza and pneumonia rates for both 2020 and the five-year average.
“Since 1959, which is when ONS monthly death records began, the number of deaths due to influenza and pneumonia in the first eight months of every year have been lower than the number of COVID-19 deaths seen, so far, in 2020.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates between 290,000 and 650,000 respiratory deaths globally each year are associated with seasonal influenza.
Public Health England estimated an average of 17,000 have died from flu each year in England annually between 2014/15 and 2018/19 – with yearly deaths varying from 28,300 in 2014/15 to a low of 1,692 in 2018/19 according to Full Fact.
The number of Covid-19 deaths has changed quickly – but since the pandemic began – there have been a total of 137,417 deaths within 28 days of a positive test and 160,824 deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate.
Based on current data, the crude mortality rate (the number of reported deaths divided by the reported cases) is between three to four percent, although the actual rate, when including mild cases where people do not get diagnosed, is likely to be lower.
Globally, for seasonal influenza, the WHO estimates the mortality rate is usually below 0.1 percent.
Success in avoiding the frightful 60,000 deaths this year will be contingent on the effectiveness of the jab rather than just uptake.
In a typical year, scientists preparing for winter in the northern hemisphere will monitor the main strains of influenza circulating throughout the southern populations and, prior to its rollout, tailor the vaccine accordingly.
However, due to the low amount of flue in circulation over the past 18 months, there has been greater uncertainty about the strains to target and therefore the vaccine to administer.