Winter flu jab could protect against coronavirus as experts hail 'new weapon' against bug

FLU jabs ahead of winter could help avoid a “twindemic” with Covid-19, say experts.

The lifesaving push for people to have the seasonal injection comes as researchers study whether TB jabs stimulate the immune system and fend off the coronavirus.

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Public Health England (PHE) research suggests that people infected with both the flu and the coronavirus during the first wave – between January and April – were more at risk of severe illness and death.

The PHE study stated that the chance of death for coronavirus patients roughly doubles if they catch flu at the same time.

The findings prompted three of the nation’s senior medics – Dr Yvonne Doyle, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam and Dr Nikita Kanani – to urge all eligible people to get vaccinated against the flu.

Free flu jabs are currently being offered to 30million Brits as part of the biggest NHS vaccination programme in history.

However, the vaccine has been reportedly “running out across the UK” sparking fears the elderly could miss out on their jab before the winter peak.

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has said it was "essential" that those most vulnerable to flu got vaccinated by the end of November.

And Greg Clark, the chairman of the Commons science committee, told The Telegraph: "Suppressing the flu helps fight Covid by reducing the number of people with Covid-like symptoms who would need to isolate and be tested, and by reducing the severity of the impact on those who do get Covid.

"It is essential that as many people as possible are able to get a flu jab this autumn."

The World Economic Forum puts it bluntly: "Want to minimise the impact of Covid-19? Get a flu shot."

It explains: "Influenza and Covid-19 are both viral diseases spread primarily by the respiratory route.

"As cold weather returns to the Northern Hemisphere and people spend more time indoors, transmission threat for both viruses will increase."

Winter has just ended in the Southern Hemisphere and countries like South Africa, Australia, Argentina and Chile diagnosed hardly any flu thanks to Covid-19 restrictions combined with a big push for influenza vaccinations.

The Daily Mail cites two large studies of 100,000 people in Italy and Brazil, which found that an uptick in flu jabs led to a significant drop in patients needing intensive care despite the Covid pandemic.

When less than 30 per cent of patients were immunised against the flu, the death rate from coronavirus was about 150 per 100,000 people.

But in areas where 70 per cent were vaccinated, the number of deaths dropped dramatically to less than ten per 100,000 population.

As a result of the promising findings, researchers at Milan University in Italy and Sao Paulo Univestiy in Brazil, urged all governments to push flu vaccination programmes to protect people during the pandemic.

"This is great news and means the UK flu vaccination campaign is even more crucial," says Peter Openshaw, a respiratory expert at Imperial College London.

He added: "These findings, from studies involving large numbers of people, are really important.

"It means the flu jab is now also a weapon in terms of coronavirus prevention – it’s potentially one of the few effective measures we can undertake this winter."

Asda has this month launched the UK's first ever drive-thru flu jab service to help people get vaccinated without having to get out of their cars.

Thirteen store car parks have been turned into specialist centres to help vulnerable people protect themselves against the winter bug.

The service will be offered completely free-of-charge to anyone who is eligible for the NHS flu jab.

This includes elderly people, pregnant women and those with underlying health condition.

It has also been extended this year to including frontline health staff, such as those working in care homes as well as home carers.

English doctors are to be given extra supplies of this winter's flu vaccine in a bid to reduce the pressure on the health service amid rising numbers of coronavirus cases.

Earlier this month, the Royal College of GPs wrote to the health minister, Matt Hancock, seeking assurances that they will have enough doses of the vaccine to cope with demand.

Doctors should deliver vaccines from their own stock and they can then place orders from mid-October for extra supplies from government-secured stock to be delivered from November, the health ministry said.

The vaccines will be provided for at-risk groups like 65s and over, pregnant women and those with pre-existing conditions, as well as front-line health and social care workers.

"If you are in an eligible group, or if you are a front-line health or social care worker, the flu vaccination will help to protect you and your loved ones this winter; that is very important at a time when Covid-19 is an additional threat," said Jonathan Van-Tam, England's deputy chief medical officer.

The push for people to get the flu jab coincides with a major study into a vaccine usually given to kids to protect them from tuberculosis.

The research is trying to suss out whether the TB shots could help adults battle against coronavirus, according to British researchers.

The Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine will now be given to 10,000 people globally as part of a trial after it was found to stimulate the immune system.

It would not be the ultimate solution but would instead help people fight off coronavirus until more effective vaccines are discovered.

The University of Exeter is leading the UK arm of the trial and will soon recruit healthcare staff and care home workers in the UK.

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