Winter flu jab could be rolled out earlier in Devon – and to more people – in case of second coronavirus spike

Winter flu jabs are likely to be rolled out earlier than usual in Devon this year in case there is second wave of coronavirus.

Health chiefs told a county council watchdog yesterday (Wednesday, June 16) that more people could also be vaccinated.

The meeting heard concern over the pressure a new spike of Covid-19 coinciding with an influenza outbreak could place on the NHS.

But Dr Paul Johnson, clinical chair of the NHS Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, said social distancing measures could actually help reduce the number of flu cases.

Dr Johnson added:  “It would be an added complication if Covid coexisted with flu due to the overlap of symptoms, but we do have the Nightingale Hospital in Exeter to cope if we did.

“But the social distancing measures will have a benefit on the decreasing number of flu cases that we see.”

Dr Virginia Pearson, director of Public Health Devon, said: “We will probably start the immunisation strategy earlier than usual, maybe by about two months, increase the people it covers, and lower the age limit to become eligible.”

Exeter’s new Nightingale Hospital is still being built in Sowton and, if needed, is set to open in July.

Members of the Devon County Council (DCC) Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee tased whether the facility could, in the absence of Covid-19, be used to relieve winter pressured on the NHS.

Interim director of commissioning Sonja Manton told councillors: “As for the winter, no decisions have been made about how we use this for the best capacity while we plan for potential surges.”

A report by Dr Tim Golby, associate director of commissioning, detailing how the NHS coped with the winter pressures in 2019/20, said: “It feels like a different world now from the world we were operating in on January.”

It added: “NHS 111 and 999 continued to be prioritised as the preferred way for the public to enter the urgent and emergency system, and [an]overall a call increase of 2.41per cent into the 111 service has been experienced, demonstrating that the strategic intention to ask the public to use this service is succeeding.”

Dr Golby said accident and emergency attendances in East Devon have dropped – with levels slightly below those of 2018/19.

This was before a massive reduction in attendances in March once coronavirus lockdown measures were introduced.

The report added that emergency hospital admissions though this year had risen across all acute hospitals across the county –  the except of North Devon.

Weekly ONS figures show one Covid-19 death recorded in East Devon and none in Exeter again