Video report by ITV News Anglia's Rob Setchell
People in the East of England are being urged to have their flu vaccine after experts predicted viruses could push the health service to breaking point this winter.
The government has launched the biggest flu programme in the NHS’s history, with more than 35 million people in England eligible for a free vaccine.
Covid booster jabs are also being rolled out, with around 1.7 million people given these third jabs so far and around 28 million people in England eligible.
The Covid booster must be given no earlier than six months after a second dose of any coronavirus vaccine, according to guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
As the weather gets cooler, experts are calling on people to take up the offer of a flu and/or Covid booster when the NHS contacts them, and not to delay having either jab.
Watch an interview with Dr Gary Howsam, the Chair of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough's clinical commissioning group
Last winter, there were very few hospital admissions for flu as people social distanced but the health service is braced for a big surge in the coming months due to a lack of population immunity, people meeting more indoors and cooler temperatures helping the virus spread.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “This year we are rolling out the largest flu vaccine programme in our history, alongside the new Covid-19 booster vaccine rollout; both are important to provide vital protection not only to yourself, but also your loved ones while also helping to ease pressure on the NHS.
“The Covid-19 vaccine programme is a fantastic example of how successful vaccination programmes can be – with around 130,000 lives saved.
“It is vital we continue that incredible progress with all those eligible ensuring they get both their flu and Covid-19 booster injections as soon as they are invited.”
England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said: “Not many people got flu last year because of Covid-19 restrictions, so there isn’t as much natural immunity in our communities as usual.
“We will see flu circulate this winter; it might be higher than usual and that makes it a significant public health concern.
“Covid-19 will still be circulating and with more people mixing indoors, sadly some increases are possible.
“For the first time we will have Covid-19 and flu co-circulating. We need to take this seriously and defend ourselves and the NHS by getting the annual flu jab and the Covid-19 booster when called.
“Both these viruses are serious: they can both spread easily, cause hospitalisation and they can both be fatal. It is really important that people get their vaccines as soon as they can.”
More than 80% of people aged 65 and over had their flu jab last year – exceeding a global target of 75%. The NHS has set an ambition to reach at least 85% of this group this flu season.
It also hopes to reach at least 75% of people with underlying health conditions, such as asthma and heart disease, at least 75% of pregnant women and at least 70% of eligible children.
The flu vaccine is given free on the NHS to people who:
are 50 and over (including those who'll be 50 by 31 March 2022)
have certain health conditions
are in long-stay residential care
receive a carer's allowance, or are the main carer for an older or disabled person who may be at risk if you get sick
live with someone who is more likely to get infections (such as someone who has HIV, has had a transplant or is having certain treatments for cancer, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis)
frontline health or social care workers
Those not eligible for a free flu jab can make an appointment for a paid-for dose at pharmacies.