For many people, getting the annual flu shot is nothing more than an irritating chore – and nearly a third of those who need it don’t care.
This year, however, there are more reasons than ever to get a flu shot – as the latest research suggests it could offer life-saving protection against Covid-19 as well.
This is a large new trial launched to see if the widely used BCG vaccine against tuberculosis could also help protect healthcare workers against the coronavirus.
Yet just as experts hailed the flu vaccine results as “good news,” worrying cracks have emerged in this year’s flu vaccination campaign, which could cause delays for some who need it. vaccine and, potentially, no NHS vaccine for others.
The concern is that many more lives will be lost if people catch the flu and the coronavirus together. Public Health England study showed risk of death doubles if this happens [File photo]
This year’s immunization plan is the largest ever undertaken. GPs and pharmacies rush to vaccinate nearly 30 million people in England against the flu over the next two months to prevent the health service from collapsing under the joint burden of a flu epidemic and Covid-19.
The concern is that many more lives will be lost if people catch the flu and the coronavirus together. A study by Public Health England has shown that the risk of death doubles if this occurs.
This year, the NHS influenza vaccination program has been extended beyond the usual risk groups – which include those over 65, young children, and people with severe chronic illnesses like asthma or heart failure – to include all 64 age groups, anyone safe from Covid-19 plus people they live with and children aged 11 to 12 who are in first year of high school .
But it’s not just that a flu shot could prevent a double whammy of infection: Groundbreaking research suggests that flu shots might also be able to prime the immune system to attack and destroy. invading coronaviruses, reducing Covid deaths by more than a third.
GPs and pharmacies are rushing to vaccinate nearly 30 million people in England against the flu over the next two months to prevent the health service from collapsing under the joint burden of a flu epidemic and Covid-19 [File photo]
Two key studies – in Italy and Brazil, which together involved more than 100,000 patients – found that routine influenza vaccination reduced Covid-19 hospital admissions and the need for intensive care among people infected.
The researchers behind the results, from the University of Milan in Italy and the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, said the evidence was so compelling that all governments should pursue flu vaccination campaigns such as one of the best ways to protect populations from coronavirus.
“This is great news and it means the UK flu vaccination campaign is even more crucial,” says Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London. “These results, from studies involving a large number of people, are really important.
“This means that the flu vaccine is now also a weapon in terms of coronavirus prevention. This is potentially one of the few effective measures we can take this winter.
For the Italian study, published in the journal Vaccines, researchers looked at coronavirus rates in people over 65 to compare infection rates, hospital admissions, and deaths from the virus in areas to high intake of influenza vaccine and areas where few people have received the vaccine.
Did you know?
Flu shots given between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. create four times more antibodies than those given between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., according to a 2018 study from the University of Birmingham.
It is believed that the immune system is more responsive early in the day, when levels of a key protein start to rise.
The results showed that in regions where less than 30% of eligible patients were vaccinated against influenza, the death rate from Covid-19 was around 150 per 100,000 population.
But in areas where the participation rate reaches 70% (the usual rate in the UK), deaths do not exceed ten per 100,000 inhabitants.
The Brazilian study followed more than 90,000 patients with Covid and found that death rates were up to 35% lower among those who received a flu shot compared to those who did not .
The two teams concluded that the most likely explanation is that the flu shots somehow stimulate the immune system enough to at least slow the progression of the coronavirus.
Most of the 100 or so Covid-19 vaccines in development are made either with traces of the “spike” protein found on the surface of the virus or with fragments of its genetic material.
The idea is that the immune system recognizes the viral material in vaccines as foreign and creates anti-infective cells (called antibodies and T cells) to fight Covid-19. These vaccines are designed to work against Covid-19 and nothing else.
But earlier this year, Good Health reported how scientists were investigating evidence that vaccines unrelated to the coronavirus also appeared to reduce rates of infection and death.
Two in particular – the MMR vaccine (mumps, measles, rubella) and the BCG vaccine – aroused enthusiasm among scientists. They are made with “living” but weakened versions of the viruses or bacteria they target.
This “living” element seems to put the whole immune system on alert. Scientists compare it to an army with all of its medium-range sentries on duty, rather than a few expert snipers.
But what’s puzzling about the latest findings is that the influenza vaccines used in Italy and Brazil do not contain any living material.
“Vaccines seem to train the immune system to respond to the coronavirus, rather than creating new antibodies or T cells to fight infection – which is normally how a vaccine works against a specific pathogen,” explains the professor. Openshaw.
Dr Rupert Payne, Senior Lecturer in Primary Health Care at the University of Bristol, adds: ‘Perhaps the flu shot somehow strengthens the immune system’s ability to suppress the flu. the virus, or reduces the excessive immune response that we see in patients requiring intensive care. “
Professor Openshaw says it is now even more essential that the roughly 30 million people who have promised a vaccine on the NHS get one. But will the government be able to keep this promise?
Already, some GPs say pre-ordered supplies haven’t arrived in time for scheduled immunization clinics.
A frustrated Devon GP tweeted last week: “My operation has not yet received enough stock, even to vaccinate me or other frontline clinicians. The whole thing is a mess.
Meanwhile, drugstore chains such as Boots and LloydsPharmacy temporarily suspended bookings last month for free and paid jabs when stocks had to be replenished as they immunized ten times more customers than last year.
How what you watch affects your health. This week: action movies make us nibble more
Watching a fast-paced movie makes people eat twice as many snacks as those who watch a talk show. According to a 2014 study from Cornell University in the United States, the difference was a result of greater absorption in the plot, the researchers said.
But creepy moviegoers can relax a bit more about their snack. Another study, published in 2012, found that movies that startle you cause the release of adrenaline that speeds up your heart rate, blood flow, and metabolism, which means you burn more calories.
The University of Westminster team found that people who watched Jaws burned 161 calories during the film, while those who watched the horror classic The Shining burned 184.
London-based psychologist Dr Meg Arroll isn’t surprised by the increase in snacking while watching action movies.
“We can easily munch on calories by mindlessly snacking in front of the TV,” she told Good Health. “To break this habit, set yourself limits – only snack when there’s an ad, for example.
“It can also be helpful to leave boxes or packaging on display as a visual reminder of what you’ve consumed.
As part of the NHS ‘new expanded program, nearly half of the entire population of England is now due for a flu shot this year.
Ministers say those most at risk will be given priority, while the group “over 50 but healthy” will be at the end of the line.
Some general practitioners have contacted patients in this category warning that they can be vaccinated no earlier than the end of November. This means that patients can only get their vaccine a few weeks before the peak of influenza infections, around January.
It takes at least two weeks after vaccination for the immune system to produce the antibodies needed to protect against the flu, so this might just do the trick.
A recent text message to a patient from a GP, seen by Good Health, warns that vaccines will only be available for healthy 50 to 64 year olds if there is enough stock available across the country, a once all at-risk patients have been vaccinated ‘.
Two weeks ago, GP Pulse magazine revealed an NHS England performance document that said free vaccines “can be ‘offered to this age group’ if circumstances permit”.
Dr George Kassianos, national immunization officer at the Royal College of General Practitioners, said the demand for a free flu shot this year was “huge”.
“But GPs who ordered their vaccines in February based those orders on the amount of vaccine they needed in previous years, when the intake was much lower.
The health ministry said there was no question of at-risk patients being denied the shot.
A spokesperson said: “There is no national shortage of the flu vaccine, with doses sufficient to get 30 million people vaccinated in England. It is completely wrong to suggest otherwise.