Drive-through flu vaccines are set to be given in doctors’ car parks in a bid to stop a potential second wave of coronavirus combining with winter illnesses.
Ministers are planning to get more than 30million people vaccinated against the flu to protect the NHS from the threat of double viruses later this year.
Experts have warned that a flu outbreak in the colder months could wreak havoc on the NHS if it coincides with a sharp rise in coronavirus cases.
However, GPs have raised concerns over the plans which would see people go to get their jabs in surgery car parks.
NHS England is planning to make vaccination centres which are modelled on the drive-through Covid-19 testing areas.
The chief medical officer for England, Chris Whitty, wrote a letter to GPs and other NHS bosses which said they should look at ‘social-distancing innovations, such as drive-in vaccinations and ”car as waiting room” models’, The Times reported.
He added that the option to be vaccinated at home should be considered to help those who are shielding.
Drive-through centres are already being used for coronavirus testing, and flu vaccinations may soon be given in the same way (Pictured: A drive-through centre in Stone, Staffordshire)
Ministers are planning to get more than 30million people vaccinated against the flu to protect the NHS from the threat of double viruses later this year (stock image)
However, the Government has admitted that it may not have enough jabs to meet the NHS’s aim to immunise 30million people in England.
Everyone over the age of 50 will be offered a flu vaccination as well as children in Year 7 and households of people who are shielding.
Although the letter made clear that healthy people between 50 and 64 would only get the jab if there are enough supplies.
People over 65 and the other groups will be given priority. The Government has said it bought enough stock to vaccinate 75 per cent of eligible people which would be about 22million.
The head of the Royal College of GPs, Martin Marshall, told The Times: ‘GPs need clear guidance who, outside of those patients most at risk, should be prioritised for a flu jab – and there needs to be clear public messaging that this is the case to manage patients’ expectations.’
At the moment, the free NHS flu programme is for people aged 65 and over, pregnant women, people with certain conditions such as kidney disease, asthma or heart disease and carers or those in care homes.
The flu jab — designed to fight off four different strains of influenza expected to circulate — offers no protection against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes Covid-19.
Most people who get the flu escape with only a mild illness but patients struck down with a severe bout can be hospitalised. Seasonal flu has a mortality rate of around 0.1 per cent.
One government adviser — Imperial College London’s Professor Peter Openshaw — raised the idea of flu shots for the entire population in April, saying it was ‘something to be considered’.
Professor Openshaw, part of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), said a bad flu season with coronavirus ‘would be a huge burden on the NHS’.
Sarah MacFadyen, head of policy and public affairs at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: ‘We welcome this ambitious plan from the government, but we urgently need more information on how this will be rolled out. Flu season is fast approaching and healthcare professionals must be given time to prepare.
‘We know that uptake of the flu vaccine amongst people with lung conditions is much too low, with less than half of eligible people in this group getting the jab last year. Increasing uptake amongst at risk groups is vital to protect the most vulnerable in our society.
‘To achieve this the government needs to ensure people can easily access the flu jab and that the message of how important it is to get vaccinated reaches as many people as possible. Everyone, especially people with lung conditions, must also be reassured the jab can be delivered in a Covid-safe way.’
The tell-tale symptoms of Covid-19 — a fever, cough and the loss of smell or taste — could be mistaken for the flu, which has similar effects and is much worse than a common cold.
This could cause confusion among the population. If they have the coronavirus, they may think they only have the flu if they have not been given a vaccine to protect them.
And dishing out the flu vaccine — which only 70 per cent of eligible NHS staff accepted last year — could prevent thousands of people from needing NHS treatment.
During the peak of Britain’s coronavirus crisis, around 3,500 people were being admitted to hospital with Covid-19 each day. The disease is estimated to be up to eight times deadlier than flu.
Studies have suggested any second wave will be deadlier than the first, adding to data showing the second bout of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic was much more lethal than its predecessor.
Imperial College London modelling warned the death toll could have been closer to 500,000, had ministers let the virus spread uncontrollably through the nation.
Infectious disease experts say that because so few Britons have been struck down with Covid-19, which began to spiral out of control in the UK in March, the threat of a second wave is real.
Britain is also currently nowhere near having herd immunity to the coronavirus, with government testing surveys suggesting 5.4 per cent of people in England have had the illness.
This is equal to around 3.02million people. Sixty per cent coverage — thought to be the amount of the population needed for herd immunity — would be the equivalent of 33.6million people across the country.
Cold and flu viruses are known to thrive in the winter — and scientists fear the coronavirus may also prove to be more of a problem in the colder months.
Experts are cautious about whether Covid-19 poses a bigger threat in the winter, however. The disease has only been known to science for six months, meaning little is yet known about the pathogen.
COVID-19 VACCINE PLANS MOVING FORWARD WITH OXFORD’S ‘PROMISING’ RESULTS
Results from the first phase of clinical trials of Oxford’s vaccine were published on Tuesday in the British medical journal, The Lancet.
They revealed that the Covid-19 vaccine had been given to 543 people out of a group of 1,077.
The other half were given a meningitis jab so their reactions could be compared and scientists could be sure the effects of the coronavirus jab weren’t random.
Researchers wanted to find out whether the vaccine boosted either of two types of immunity — antibodies, which are disease-fighting substances; and T-cell immunity, with T cells able to produce antibodies and also to attack viruses themselves.
The vaccine produced ‘strong’ responses on both accounts, the study found.
It showed that the T cell response aimed at the spike protein that appears on the outside of the coronavirus was ‘markedly increased’ in people who had had the jab, in tests of 43 of the participants. These responses peaked after 14 days and then declined before the end-point of the trial at 56 days.
Antibody immunity, on the other hand, peaked after four weeks and remained high by day 56, the point at which the last measurement was taken, meaning it may well last for even longer.
After 28 days, up to 100 per cent of a group of 35 people still had a strong enough ‘neutralising’ immune response to destroy the virus, researchers found.
A neutralising response means the immune system is able to destroy the virus and make it unable to infect the body.
The researchers could not test this on more people because they didn’t have enough time, they explained.
Scientists had to wait a month after vaccinating people, with many of them vaccinated in late May. And Sir Mene Pangalos, a vice-president of research and development at AstraZeneca, said the tests used were ‘very laborious’ so the team weren’t able to get more data in time for the paper.
Sir Mene added that the researchers were ‘veering towards a two-high-dose strategy’ because that seemed to be producing the strongest immune response.