People in the North West are being urged to take up their free flu jab and Covid-19 booster if they are eligible ahead of a "difficult winter".
Increased mixing indoors for the first winter in two years could lead to transmission of the respiratory illnesses and add extra additional pressure to the NHS, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) North West and NHS England North West has warned.
Across the North West there was a 3.1 million record uptake of the flu jab in people aged 65 and over in 2021/22.
Although there was lower uptake among younger people in clinical risk groups and pregnant women - and these groups are particularly encouraged to come forward this year.
All primary school children and some secondary school children are eligible for the flu nasal spray this year, which is usually given at school.
GP surgeries are also inviting children aged two and three years old for the nasal spray vaccination at their practices.
As most young children will not have encountered flu yet they will not have built up any natural immunity to this virus, so, health bosses say, it is particularly important for them to take up the flu vaccine this year.
In addition to the predicted flu wave, the UKHSA says it has "early indications Covid-19 rates are beginning to rise ahead of winter", increasing the threat to people’s health.
Dr Sam Ghebrehewet, Deputy Director for UKHSA North West, said: "Flu and Covid-19 are unpredictable but there are strong indications we could be facing the threat of widely circulating flu, lower levels of natural immunity due to less exposure over the last three winters and an increase in Covid-19 circulating with lots of variants that can evade the immune response.
"This combination poses a serious risk to our health, particularly those in high-risk groups.
“If you are elderly or vulnerable because of other conditions you are at greater risk, so getting the flu jab is a sensible, potentially life-saving thing to do.
“We are extremely fortunate to have vaccines against these two diseases.
"Most eligible groups have been selected because they are at higher risk of severe illness.
"Younger children are unlikely to have built up any natural immunity to flu and therefore it is particularly important they take the nasal spray vaccine this year.
"So, if you are offered a jab, please come forward to protect yourself and help reduce the burden on our health services.”
Tricia Spedding, Head of Public Health for NHS England North West, added: "The flu and Covid-19 vaccines provide the best protection from getting seriously ill from these viruses and also reduce the risk of spreading them to others.
“Getting your flu and covid vaccines are two of the most important things you can do to keep yourself and others around you safe this winter.
"I would urge everyone eligible for either or both vaccines to come forward as soon as they are invited.”
Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To know...