COVID-19 and flu – autumn booster and keeping safe this winter

Posted on: 10th October 2022

The British Liver Trust supports the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) in urging everyone eligible for a free flu vaccine and a COVID-19 booster to take up the offer as soon as possible ahead of what could be a difficult winter with respiratory viruses circulating widely.

Which liver patients are eligible for the autumn booster?

  • People with chronic liver disease
  • People with a liver condition who are receiving immuno suppressive treatment
  • People who have had a liver transplant

People who are household contacts of people with immunosuppression are also eligible to receive the booster as well as anybody over the age of 50.

Is the flu on the rise?

International surveillance shows that H3N2 – a subtype of influenza type A – is currently the most-commonly detected flu virus worldwide. H3N2 has recently caused waves of infection in southern hemisphere countries such as Australia, which has also experienced flu circulating earlier than usual in their winter season.

This H3N2 strain circulated in the UK last winter but was held largely in check by COVID-19 restrictions when people mixed a lot less and worked from home. This helped to protect people from catching flu but has also led to lower levels of natural immunity to this strain building up within the population.

In addition to the predicted flu wave, there are early indications that COVID-19 rates are beginning to rise ahead of winter, increasing the threat to people’s health.  For all those who are eligible, taking up both the COVID-19 booster and the flu jab is an essential form of protection against the most severe respiratory viruses in circulation this winter.

Director of Communications and Policy at the British Liver Trust Vanessa Hebditch said: “Liver disease patients are among the highest risk groups when it comes to COVID-19 and flu and the vaccine is the best form of protection for them against these viruses."

As well as taking up the vaccines, everyone is encouraged to help stop the spread of respiratory viruses this winter, remember these important steps to protect yourself:

  • Wear a mask in areas where you’ll mix with other people
  • Avoid crowded places especially indoors
  • If you meet indoors make sure the area is fully ventilated
  • Wash your hands regularly and for at least 20 seconds
  • We have Distance Aware badges and lanyards available, if you want to politely remind others to give you space.
FAQs for liver disease patients who are immunosuppressed
We are aware that if you or a loved one is immunosuppressed you have particular worries about the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the effectiveness of the vaccine. 

No, the risk is about the same.

A study found that people with autoimmune hepatitis, and people with other liver conditions have the same level of risk from COVID-19.

The study compared two groups:

  • People with both COVID-19 and autoimmune hepatitis
  • People with both COVID-19 and a different liver condition

The results showed that people in both groups had the same risk of needing to stay in hospital, having to stay in an intensive care unit (ICU), or dying.

Most of the people with autoimmune hepatitis who took part in the study were taking immunosuppressant medicines.

The work was carried out by researchers at Oxford university hospitals.

Most people with a liver condition are not severely immunosuppressed.

You may be severely immunosuppressed if:

  • You are taking immunosuppressant medicines including:
    • Immunosuppressive or immunomodulating biological therapy
    • High dose steroids, taken for more than a month
    • Steroid sparing agents
  • You have a history of haematological malignancy

A haematological malignancy is a cancer that started in your blood, bone marrow, or immune cells.

You should be told if a medicine will make you severely immunosuppressed before you start taking it. If you are unsure, always talk to your GP or specialist.

The COVID-19 vaccines used in the UK are safe for people who are immunosuppressed.

Vaccines have been shown to significantly reduce your risk of becoming very unwell or dying from COVID-19 if you have had a transplant or are waiting for one.

A study is underway to look at how well the vaccines work for people who are immunosuppressed. Including those with liver conditions.

People in this study were given vaccines. The researchers then looked at how well their immune systems responded. This included looking at how many antibodies they produced against the COVID-19 virus.

The study reported its first results in August 2021. It found that, in people with a chronic liver condition, about 6 in 10 had a similar number of antibodies to someone with no health conditions.

We don’t yet understand how many antibodies you need to reduce your risk from COVID-19. So, people who didn't have as many antibodies could still be getting some protection.

Professor Iain McInnes, one of the lead investigators, said:

“We would continue to encourage all people and especially those patients within these clinically at-risk groups to make sure they receive their vaccine doses if they haven’t done so already.”

Find out more about the COVID-19 vaccines and how to get them here: