Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, was speaking on the Andrew Marr show, and said one of the biggest threats this winter is flu, noting that there could be between 11,000 to 60,000 deaths.
She said: “We have not had the flu exposure we have had previously, people are more susceptible.”
Harries continued: “People are at more significant risk of death and of serious illness if they are co-infected with flu and with Covid, and that does not seem to be, from our studies, a fact which many of the public understand.”
Nonetheless, she said there had been “extremely good vaccine uptake” which is now preventing significant amounts of hospitalisations and deaths.
Marr asked whether because there has not been as much flu circulating, as a result of mask wearing and staying inside, she was concerned about the vaccine and this particular strain of flu.
Harries answered: “It is a more uncertain year, but I certainly would be encouraging everybody to go and get their vaccine.
“As usual, we work with WHO and we look at what has happened on the other side of the world, because obviously their winter season comes first, and we have a multi-strain vaccine.”
Nonetheless, she said there was a degree of uncertainty, partially because of there being fewer cases, but also because people will not have come to be tested so much, so there are fewer samples.
She said: “This is probably the first season we will have significant amounts of COVID circulating, as well as flu.
“People’s behaviours have changed, we are mixing more, winter weather is coming and everybody is going into enclosed spaces.”
She added: “The difficulty is that at this point in the pandemic, it is one of the most difficult times to predict what will come”.
This is partially because we have different levels of vaccination, and “a little bit of immunity waning in older individuals” which is why there is a booster system.
Harries said that for an average flu season it is about 11,000 deaths a year, “so we are starting to move to a situation where perhaps COVID is not the most significant element”.
NHS England said on Saturday that three weeks after the booster programme began, a total of 2.08m third jabs have been given.
Third jabs are being given on the NHS for people most at risk from COVID-19, who have had a second dose of a vaccine at least six months ago.
Like some other vaccines, levels of protection may begin to wane over time, and the booster aims to give you longer term protection.
Harries was asked how seriously we should take the problem facing children, given that they are generally less at risk.
She said: “The critical point is that they are less at risk, but that does not mean that we should not take it seriously.”
She added that she thought there is a really important balance between the risk of the virus and also the risk of not being in school.
“I think the important thing is we should make sure children are not in school if they are infectious,” she said.
The NHS is currently offering a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to people aged 16 and 17.
If you will turn 18 within three months, you can also get a second dose.
All children aged 12 to 15 will be offered a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“If your child is eligible for 2 doses of the vaccine, you’ll be contacted by a local NHS service such as their GP surgery to arrange their appointments,” reads the NHS website.