15,000 deaths caused by flu in England

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LONDON: After an awful winter last year – there were 15,000 deaths caused by flu in England (almost double the national average) – health officials are increasing efforts to protect the population’s health.

This winter there will be two flu vaccines on offer. The quadrivalent vaccine, which protects against four strains of flu, will be available to those under 65, for the first time ever in the UK – in previous years, the flu vaccine only protected against three, The Huffpost has reported.

Meanwhile the over-65s will be offered an immune-boosting vaccine which only protects against three strains, but is still hugely recommended for this age group.

Public Health England’s medical director Professor Paul Cosford said that strains of flu circulating in the southern hemisphere’s winter are similar to last year. Although it has been a mild season in terms of flu in the southern hemisphere, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a mild flu season in the UK, he added.

Cosford warned the public that the number one way to protect against flu is to have a vaccination. So which should you have?

This year’s quadrivalent vaccine – generally available to most people aged 65 and under – protects against the following flu strains:

:: Influenza A/H1N1 – the strain of flu that caused the swine flu pandemic in 2009.

:: Influenza A/H3N2 – a strain of flu (otherwise known as Australian flu) that mainly affects the elderly and people with long-term health conditions. Professor Cosford said the vaccine wasn’t as effective as they’d hoped in protecting against this strain last year.

:: Influenza B/Brisbane – a strain of flu that particularly affects children.

:: Influenza B/Yamagata (otherwise known as Japanese flu) – a strain of flu that impacts children more, however last winter it also impacted the elderly.

A nasal spray version of the vaccine will also be on offer to children and young people aged two to 17 years in an eligible group.

Immune-boosting jab

The ‘adjuvanted trivalent’ vaccine works by improving the body’s immune response to the vaccine. This is important because typically older adults’ bodies do not respond as well to the flu vaccine due to their naturally weaker immune systems. They are also more likely to suffer complications from flu.

PHE estimates this vaccine, which is available to the over-65s only, will reduce GP consultations by 30,000. It’s also thought there will be 2,000 fewer hospitalisations and 700 hospital deaths prevented as a result of the jab being on offer.

The jab wasn’t available last year as it was only licensed for use in the UK in 2017. It protects against three strands of flu, as there currently isn’t an immune-boosting vaccine that protects against the four strains.

The downside is that it doesn’t protect against Japanese flu, however health officials believe there might be some “cross protection” offered from the other strains the jab protects against.