The influenza (flu) season of 2020–2021 will be different from previous years as a result of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak. Although the number of daily confirmed cases of COVID-19 continues to decline in the UK, experience from other countries such as Iran and Spain indicates the possibility of secondary surges at regional or national levels. This year’s flu vaccination rate will be lower than previous years due to reduced access to healthcare services; however, flu vaccination is still crucial during the outbreak of COVID-19 as it prevents possible co-infection and contributes toward hospital bed availability and primary care access.
The flu, similarly to COVID-19, affects the elderly more than any other age group. According to GlobalData’s 2019 report Seasonal Influenza: Epidemiology Forecast to 2028 (GDHCER219-19), it is estimated that in 2019 about 72% of people over 65 years old received the flu jab in the UK. This means that about 10% of hospitalizations as a result of the flu was averted. Public Health England’s recent report estimates that about 45% of primary care general practitioner (GP) services demand was avoided as a result of flu vaccinations for the 2019–2020 season. This indicates that vaccination contributed to the availability of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients. Additionally, when there are fewer flu cases in the population, any emerging flu-like disease outbreaks are easier to detect.
Furthermore, recent findings show that co-infection of COVID-19 and flu is possible. However, more research is needed to determine the prevalence of such co-infection. One study (Hashemi et al., 2020) conducted in Iran found two cases of type A flu and COVID-19 co-infection among 600 COVID-19 patients. Both patients, following complex treatment courses, died. Such cases highlight the importance of flu vaccination among the elderly.
The UK has one of the highest flu vaccination rates in the world. However, during the pandemic, extra precautions need to be taken to avoid COVID-19 contamination during vaccination, which consequently increases the length of each appointment. Therefore, and despite the importance of vaccination during the pandemic, GlobalData epidemiologists predict a lower flu vaccination rate in the UK in 2020–2021.