And around 26 million are being urged to get a Covid booster, as early signs suggest a new wave of infection is starting. NHS director for vaccinations and screening Steve Russell said: “This winter could be the first time we see the effects of the so-called ‘twindemic’ with both Covid and flu in full circulation.”
“So it is vital that those most susceptible to serious illness from these viruses come forward for vaccines in order to protect themselves and those around them.”
“If you have been offered a flu vaccination or Covid booster you should book in as soon as possible.”
The UK Health Security Agency said international surveillance suggested H3N2, a subtype of influenza A, is now the most common flu strain circulating.
In 2017-2018, that strain led to a severe UK flu season with around 20,000 deaths and 40,000 hospital admissions.
This year, it has caused waves of illness in southern hemisphere countries such as Australia.
One senior expert said they were more worried about flu this winter than they had been for several years.
There are also fears that people may be slow to come forward for flu jabs due to vaccine burnout, or wrongly thinking they are not at risk.
On top of that, there are now early indications that a new Covid wave is starting, with a rise in positive tests and hospital admissions.
Patients unlucky enough to be co-infected with both flu and Covid are around twice as likely to die as those who only have the latter, research has shown.
Dr Susan Hopkins, the chief medical adviser at UKHSA, said: “Flu and Covid-19 are unpredictable. But there are strong indications we could be facing the threat of widely circulating flu, lower levels of natural immunity due to less exposure over the last three winters and an increase in Covid-19 circulating, with lots of variants that can evade the immune response.’
“This combination poses a serious risk to our health, particularly those in high-risk groups. The H3N2 flu strain can cause particularly severe illness.”
“If you are elderly or vulnerable because of other conditions, you are at greater risk, so getting the flu jab is a sensible, potentially life-saving thing to do.”
New bivalent Covid vaccines are now being used, targeting both the original virus strain and the Omicron variant. The original Pfizer and Moderna vaccines or the Novavax jab may also be used in exceptional cases.
The NHS said there had been “great demand” with three million boosters administered so far.
England’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Thomas Waite said: “Vaccines have saved many lives over the years for both flu and more recently Covid.
“But we must not be complacent. Infections will rise once again this winter, so it’s really important people get both their Covid and flu vaccines if eligible.”
Public health experts have said the Government is highly unlikely to introduce any legal Covid restrictions even in the event of another wave due to the current political climate.
However, the UKHSA said everyone should help stop the spread of respiratory viruses by washing hands, wearing masks in crowded public spaces and covering their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.