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Covid may no longer be the most “significant” threat to health, Dr Jenny Harries has said.
The chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency said today that Covid was possibly no more dangerous than flu, as she warned that there would be a lower immunity to the illness this year.
She said: “It is important to remember that for an average flu season it's about 11,000 deaths a year, it’s somewhere between four (thousand) to 22,000 over the last four to five years.
“So we are starting to move to a situation where, perhaps Covid is not the most significant element, and many of those individuals affected will of course have other comorbidities, which will make them vulnerable to serious illness but other reasons as well.”
It comes as the NHS launched its biggest ever flu vaccination drive amid fears flu deaths could be the worst for 50 years because of lockdowns and social distancing.
More than 35 million people will be offered flu jabs this winter, amid concern that prolonged restrictions on social contact have left Britain with little immunity.
Officials fear that this winter could see up to 60,000 flu deaths – the worst figure in Britain since the 1968 Hong Kong Flu pandemic – without strong uptake of vaccines.
There is also concern about the effectiveness of this year’s jabs, because the lack of flu last year made it harder for scientists to sample the virus and predict the dominant strains.
Meanwhile Dr Harries added that the dominance of the Delta variant globally has seen other coronavirus variants “become extinct”, but warned we still need to “stay alert”.
“With the dominance of Delta, it does look as though many of the other variants which have been detected are becoming extinct, and a number of variants under investigation have risen slightly, we've seen cases, and they’ve become extinct,” she told The Andrew Marr Show.
However she cautioned that it was imperative to “stay alert”, as she said it was “still very early days of a new virus”.
Dr Jenny Harries also said that the difficulty going forwards was predicting what is to come with Covid-19, as immunity from vaccines wanes in some older people.
“We’ve obviously had extremely good vaccine uptake and that is now preventing very significant amounts of hospitalisation and death, she said, adding that “the difficulty is at this point in the pandemic, it’s one of the most difficult times to predict what will come”.
She said: “We have different levels of vaccination, we have a little bit of immunity waning in older individuals, which is why we’re now starting to put in a Covid booster vaccine.
“We have slightly different effectiveness in different vaccinations that have been provided.”
Dr Harries also said that children wearing masks in school would not be at the top of her list of Covid-safe measures.
Her comments come after education unions urged the Government to consider reintroducing extra safety measures against coronavirus in schools.
However, she said she believed the important thing was to ensure “children aren’t in school if they are actually infectious”.
“We’ve got a very good testing programme and we know that at the start of the term we expected to see a surge in cases,” she said.
“I think this is really important. We saw a surge in cases as they were detected as children came back, it dropped down a bit, and then we've seen another surge.”