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NHS aims to give 35m flu jabs amid warnings of up to 60,000 deaths

flu jabs

NHS aims to give 35m flu jabs amid warnings of up to 60,000 deaths

The NHS is to embark on the most ambitious programme of flu jabs in its history amid warnings of up to 60,000 deaths.

The health service aims to immunise a record 35 million people – more than half the UK’s population – against influenza as the country faces its first winter with Covid and flu circulating at the same time.

Experts fear the coming flu season could be particularly deadly because the population will have lost much of its immunity to the virus, which dropped to extremely low levels under Covid restrictions.

With people mixing far more freely than last winter, scientists fear a wave of influenza will coincide with seasonal rises in Covid and other infections such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), creating a “triple whammy” for the NHS.

Modelling from the Academy of Medical Sciences has warned of 15,000 to 60,000 deaths from influenza this winter, making the season more than twice as deadly as an average year.

Health officials said that for the first time, newly trained vaccinators will be allowed to administer the flu shot so that more people than ever before can receive the jab before any winter surge. The training will follow guidance drawn up by the UK Health Security Agency, formerly Public Health England.

A campaign launched on Friday by the Department of Health, the Royal College of GPs, the Royal College of Midwives and other professional bodies urges those eligible to book their free flu jab as soon as possible and take up the Covid booster when invited.

Free flu shots are available for about 30 million frontline health and social care workers, pregnant women, people aged 50 and over, those at clinical risk, and children up to school year 11. In many cases the same people will qualify for Covid boosters, which are given no sooner than six months after the second dose of Covid vaccine. Where possible, vaccination sites will offer both shots at the same appointment.

To date, 1.7 million people in England have received Covid boosters. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has recommended boosters for all over-50s, clinically vulnerable people and frontline health and social care workers. The rollout of Covid vaccines in the UK has saved an estimated 130,000 lives and prevented up to 24.3m infections, according to the UK Health Security Agency.

“Not many people got flu last year because of Covid-19 restrictions, so there isn’t as much natural immunity in our communities as usual. We will see flu circulate this winter; it might be higher than usual and that makes it a significant public health concern,” said Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer.

“Covid-19 will still be circulating and with more people mixing indoors, sadly some increases are possible. For the first time we will have Covid-19 and flu co-circulating. We need to take this seriously and defend ourselves and the NHS by getting the annual flu jab and the Covid-19 booster when called.”

The call for people to take up the vaccinations came as an Opinium survey commissioned by the Cabinet Office revealed that more than a quarter of people (26%) did not know that influenza could be fatal, while nearly a third (32%) were unaware that flu and Covid could circulate at the same time. An average flu season kills about 11,000 people in England.

More than a third (37%) of pregnant women – a group eligible for free flu shots – did not realise they could catch influenza if they had been vaccinated for Covid. Flu jabs can be booked at GP practices or local pharmacies, and pregnant women can request a jab at the local maternity service.

“We are facing a challenging winter but we can all help ourselves and those around us by taking up the Covid-19 booster and flu vaccine if eligible,” said Dr Jenny Harries, the chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency. “Getting vaccinated against both viruses will not only help to protect us and our loved ones but will also help protect the NHS from potential strain this winter.”

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Health

Lagos to convert General Hospital to eye centre

The Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, says the state government will designate one of its general hospitals as a centre for ophthalmic specialty to improve care for patients with eye conditions.

Abayomi said this during the 4th Annual General Meeting and Scientific Conference of the Africa Retina Society on Thursday in Lagos.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the event was themed, “Upscaling Retinal Services in a Resource-Constrained Economy.”

Abayomi said the centre would provide a world-class diagnostic, medical, surgical and ophthalmic services in Lagos and Nigeria.

He stressed that the state would prioritise eye health, noting that the state was working on developing screening capacity of all its primary healthcare facilities to detect eye diseases early.

“The conditions that affect the eyes very much reflect the conditions of the community in which you live. HIV, for example, was a major problem in South Africa, and I certainly experienced the impact of HIV on our day-to-day medicine and practice.

“Here in Nigeria, we have other things. We have hypertension, diabetes, sickle cell, and lots of trauma. These are the kinds of things that we see in our clinics here in Lagos and in Nigeria.

“We need to be able to understand how these prevailing conditions really affect us,” he said.

The commissioner further said that efforts are ongoing to promote eye screening, especially in schools, starting with the training of teachers to detect students exhibiting challenges with their vision.

He added that the state would leverage the social health insurance to screen, detect and treat eye diseases as patients presents at health facilities.

The commissioner further said the state would strengthen public awareness and understanding on eye health, especially glaucoma and visual acuity.

Abayomi disclosed that the state through its Ministry of Health had forged a partnership with the Chagoury Group
to develop a specialist eye hospital in Lagos to boost access to eye services.

He acknowledged that ophthalmology was equipment-intensive, stressing that government would pay attention to that and human resources to enable practitioners make appropriate diagnosis, and treatment to reverse medical tourism.

Earlier, Prof. Linda Visser, Head, Division of Ophthalmology Stellenbosch University, South Africa, called on policy makers to formulate policies that would integrate eye screening into diabetes care from the primary healthcare level, noting that cases of diabetic retinopathy was on the increase among Africans.

Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is a chronic progressive disease of the retinal capillaries (small blood vessels) associated with prolonged raised blood glucose levels in people with diabetes.

Visser cited data from International Diabetes Foundation that showed that 537 million adults aged 20 to 79 years are living with diabetes globally, a number that was predicted to reach 1.3 billion in 50 years.

“The high prevalence of type 2 diabetes continues to rise worldwide and is particularly rapid in low- and middle income countries.

“Most of these countries have limited availability and affordability of healthcare services for screening and treating diabetes-related complications, such as retinopathy, to prevent vision loss,”

According to her, all persons with diabetes are at risk of developing DR, however, those with poor blood glucose and blood pressure management and hyperlipidaemia are most at risk.

Visser, Past President, Vitreoretinal Society of South Africa, emphasised that early detection would lead to timely treatment of DR, which could prevent 95 per cent of vision impairment and blindness.

Also, Dr Asiwome Seneadza, Chairman, Africa Retina Society, said that the theme was timely and critical as efforts are made to navigate the complexities and challenges in delivering advanced retinal care across the continent.

Seneadza said, “That’s why we are advocating for improved diabetes care and regular retinal screening made available and accessible for every individual living with diabetes,” he said.

Similarly, Prof. Bassey Fiebai, Chairman, Vitreo Retinal Society of Nigeria, said the meeting was critical to proffering solutions to the challenge of offering standard retina care, improving outcomes and reducing visual loss from retina related disorders among low to medium income countries.

Fiebai said that the government plays a critical role in providing funding, training of personnel, provision of equipment to improve screening, detection and treatment of retinopathy disease.

The professor noted that retina specialists are few in Nigeria, placing the figure at about 100, stressing that it was inadequate to cater to the teeming population who require eye care.

“Right now in the country, we have just a little over 100 retina specialists. And we know that the population of Nigeria is about 230 million.

“So we’re looking at a situation in which one retina specialist is supposed to cater for 2.3 million people. How does anyone cope?” she queried.

NAN reports that the Annual General Meeting and Scientific Conference of the Africa Retina Society which began on June 26 to June 28, had participants from various African countries brainstorm on enhancing retinal care.

(NAN)

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Cholera outbreak: Tinubu sets up presidential committee to oversee emergency operation centre

President Bola Tinubu has directed the setting up of a presidential committee to oversee the Cholera Emergency Operation Centre, operated by the National Centre For Disease Control.

The Minister of Health, Ali Pate, made this known on Tuesday after the Federal Executive Council meeting chaired by President Tinubu at the State House, Abuja.

He added that the committee’s effort is in addition to state government support to ensure Nigeria makes progress in reducing open defecation.

“The Council then approved a cabinet committee comprising the federal ministries of Health, Finance,Water Resources, Environment, Youth, Aviation, Education because some of our children will be returning to school . In addition to this, the state government, we will co-opt, so that Nigeria makes progress in reducing open defecation because cholera is a developmental issue that requires a multi-sectoral approach.

“The President directed that a cabinet committee be set up to oversee what the emergency operation centre led by NCDC is doing and for the resources to be provided complemented by the state government,” he said.

Pate further disclosed: “At the moment about 31 states have recorded 1528 cases and 53 deaths in Nigeria. That is what we are working through the Emergency Operation Centre that was activated by NCDC on Monday.

“Now we have a cholera outbreak and we discussed extensively in the Council in addition to a new emergence of Yellow Fever specifically in Bayelsa State.

“On cholera we are in the middle of the 7th pandemic globally which is decades in the making. In 2022, the world had almost 500,000 cases of cholera so it is not only peculiar to Nigeria. In 2023 almost 700,000 cases of cholera were reported by the World Health Organization.

“This year more than 200,000 cases have occurred in five regions of the World.”

He emphasised that a multi sectoral approach is required to tackle the outbreak .

“Resources were deployed to 21 states to help them respond to cholera. We are improving awareness of population, handwashing, hygiene sanitation, in addition to treatment with drugs, and intravenous fluids,” he added.

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Health

NCDC reports 1,598 cases of cholera across the country

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, NCDC, has reported 1,598 suspected cases of cholera across 107 local government areas.

The cholera outbreak is characterised by a case fatality rate of 3.5 per cent, significantly higher than the national expected average of one per cent, underscoring the severity of the situation.

The Director-General of NCDC, Dr Jide Idris, disclosed this on Monday in Abuja while providing an update on the cholera epidemiological situation in Nigeria and ongoing prevention and response efforts at the national and sub-national levels.

Cholera is a severe diarrheal illness caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The disease remains a significant health challenge, especially in regions with inadequate sanitation and clean water access.

Understanding the transmission mechanism of cholera is crucial to curbing its spread and implementing effective prevention measures.

Idris said: “Government is deeply concerned about the rapid spread and higher-than-expected mortality rate, indicating a more lethal outbreak.”

He emphasised that the fatalities represented significant personal losses, including those of family members, spouses, parents and healthcare workers.

“This situation can be compounded as the rainy season intensifies,” he added.

He disclosed that Lagos State accounted for the highest number of deaths with 29, followed by Rivers with eight, Abia and Delta with four each, Katsina with three, Bayelsa with two and Kano, Nasarawa and Cross River with one each.

He added: “This alarming trend highlights the urgent need for coordinated response to prevent further escalation of the crisis. Sixteen states accounted for 90 per cent of the confirmed cases, with Lagos being the epicentre of the outbreak. Lagos State, having the highest number of cases, has received significant focus, with ongoing support and resources directed to manage the outbreak effectively.”

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