Covid: Dr Jenny Harries discusses risk of flu

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With a lack of baseline level of immunity after a year when flu virus circulation has been very low, the potential of an ineffective vaccine could be set to create a perfect winter storm. Informa Pharma Intelligence has sounded the alarm, telling express.co.uk the flu shot “may fail to reach 40-60% efficency”. Flu vaccines in Britain are made by analysing the strains prevalent during outbreaks from the previous winter in the Southern Hemisphere.

Whilst this usually produces a vaccine that successfully combats a serious outbreak of flu, this year data is limited as Covid restrictions and behavioural changes have kept the rates of flu down to a minimum across the globe.

Also worrying is the fact that there is also little chance of quick changes to be made to the vaccine after an influenza outbreak.

This is because historical surveillance data is needed to be able to identify strains, and mass production of an effective shot takes a long time to develop.

Hannah Hall, Senior Epidemiologist at Informa Pharma Intelligence called on the Government for immediate action to reduce the risk of a “twindemic”.

She said: “The dual-threat of surging influenza cases with persistent Covid-19 rates across the UK is something that will require a response from the UK government.”

But Ms Hall said that not all hope is lost for the future.

She explained: “Just as the past year has changed much of what we thought was possible in the vaccine space, the influence of new mRNA technology in producing an effective vaccine for future flu outbreaks could be significant.”

Ms Hall also said those mRNA vaccines – like the Pfizer and Moderna Covid shots – can be produced far quicker than traditional vaccine technology.

They could also protect people against multiple respiratory viruses with one jab.

And now, this type of technology is being investigated for influenza by Moderna, Sanofi and Pfizer.

But while Ms Hall that these advancements look promising, we could still be in for a winter of chaos as this technology will not be developed any time soon.

Ms Hall told Express.co.uk: “Realistically, we can’t expect mRNA-type vaccines for flu for at least two years at a bare minimum.

“The technology is only entering Phase I clinical trials this year, and the fastest possible scenario would involve a large flu season in 2022–23 to test efficacy and safety in large trials, before manufacturing enough doses ahead of the 2023–24 winter.

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“This is still a highly optimistic best-case scenario as there isn’t the need or support to move as quickly as seen with COVID-19 considering the widespread availability of existing vaccines against flu.”

Experts have already warned we could see what they are calling a “twindemic” of COVID-19 and flu this coming winter.

And Professor Jenny Harries, the former deputy chief medical officer for England, has said people who catch coronavirus and flu at the same time this winter are “twice as likely to die”.

Asked how worried the public should be about flu this winter, she said: “We should be worried about flu each winter. I think people still don’t realise it can be a fatal disease.

“Recent studies suggest that about 25% of us don’t actually understand that. On average, over the last five years, about 11,000 people have died with flu-related conditions.

“But I think the important thing about this winter is, we are likely to see flu, for the first time in any real numbers, co-circulating with COVID.”

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