Preparations have been taken to negate the threat of coronavirus this winter by offering millions of people a booster shot of a coronavirus vaccine. However, measures must be taken to protect the NHS against another threat: the “twindemic”. Speaking to the BBC, Professor Linda Bauld, a public health expert from the University of Edinburgh, explained what it is.
According to prof Bauld, the enforced social distancing measures throughout the pandemic have meant people have not been exposed to viruses that circulate every winter.
This could cause an explosion this winter that poses a “serious” threat to the NHS, she warned.
“We did not see influenza or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in the numbers”, prof Bauld explained, referring to the monitoring of coronavirus last winter.
But now the wholesale lifting of social restrictions has causes these multiple viruses to surge, she warned.
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The threat posed by RSV and influenza was raised in a report by the Academy of Medical Sciences in August.
The report warned that the UK could face exceptionally large outbreaks of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza during the autumn and winter of 2021–22.
The surge in infections could overlap with the spike in cases of COVID-19 that is expected to follow the lifting of lockdown restrictions across the country, the report warned.
“It is clear that the health-care system must plan for a high burden of respiratory diseases”, wrote the authors of the new report.
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They urged the government to rollout joint testing for influenza, coronavirus, and RSV, and to ensure that the influenza vaccine is widely taken-up by eligible populations.
Prof Bauld echoed this advice.
It is “so important that people take up the influenza vaccine as well the coronavirus vaccine”, she said.
The advice partly reflects the success of the vaccines that have been deployed against coronavirus.
“If you’ve had COVID-19, it’s safe to have the flu vaccine,” explains the NHS.
“It will still be effective at helping to prevent flu.”
The flu vaccine is given free on the NHS to people who:
- Are 50 and over (including those who’ll be 50 by 31 March 2022)
- Have certain health conditions
- Are pregnant
- Are in long-stay residential care
- Receive a carer’s allowance, or are the main carer for an older or disabled person who may be at risk if you get sick
- Live with someone who is more likely to get infections (such as someone who has HIV, has had a transplant or is having certain treatments for cancer, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis)
- Frontline health or social care workers.
You can have the NHS flu vaccine at:
- Your GP surgery
- A pharmacy offering the service
- Your midwifery service if you’re pregnant
- A hospital appointment.