Flu could be a "bigger problem" than Covid-19 this winter, the deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has said.

Professor Anthony Harnden told BBC 4’s Today programme: "I will emphasise that actually flu could be potentially a bigger problem this winter than Covid.

"We’ve had a very, very low prevalence of flu for the last few years, particularly virtually nil during lockdown, and we do know that when flu has been circulating in very low numbers immunity drops in the population, and it comes back to bite us. So, flu can be really, really important this winter."

He said that research was being carried out on whether flu jabs could be given alongside Covid-19 vaccines this autumn as part of a booster vaccination programme, with data about this expected soon.

He added: "Reactogenicity, or how they react with each other, and what sort of side-effect profile that they give when given together, is really important."

This comes amid a wider discussion about preparedness for the booster vaccine rollout in autumn, with senior health leaders warning that unanswered questions about the programme will add significant complexity to the health service. 

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said the NHS needs time to plan for potential Covid-19 vaccine booster campaigns to make them "business as usual" instead of "emergency response".

He said there are many questions that "really do need to be answered in terms of looking forward to the next phase," including how long vaccine protection lasts, whether people can "mix and match" the vaccines they have had, how new vaccines will be incorporated into the vaccine roster, what the plan is for vaccinating children, and whether the vaccine can be given alongside the flu jab.

Mr Hopson added: "Flu jabs start in September, so if we’re going to do one jab in one arm, one jab in the other, we really do need to know quite quickly.

"And that’s why we’ve called today for the Government to do all it can to get us the answers to those questions. We need those answers really pretty quickly if we’re to carry on our fantastic success."

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He added: "We’ve done a fantastic emergency response in terms of these vaccines up to now, but we now need to make them business as usual and we’ve got to basically do them alongside all the other work the NHS has got to do, which is why we’re saying the more time that we can have to do that planning, the more time we’ve got to make this business as usual.

"To be frank, we’re probably going to need to do these vaccinations, probably on an annual basis for, I don’t know, at least five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 years."

During a Downing Street press conference last Monday, Boris Johnson confirmed the Government would set out plans for a booster vaccination programme. 

Matt Hancock also told BBC Breakfast this morning that the Government is working on the booster jabs plan and that they should have clinical data in the next few weeks.

He said that second jabs offer very strong protection "but there is more protection still that we think that you can get from a booster jab and we’re currently trialling which combinations of jabs are the most effective".

"When we know the results of that, then we will set out the full plans for the booster programme over the autumn," he added.

Seven vaccines are currently being tested in the Cov-Boost trial to see which could be used in any forthcoming autumn vaccination programme.