Drive-through vaccination centres could be used to maximise Cumbria’s campaign to tackle flu this winter while limiting the risk of spreading coronavirus.

Cumbria’s director of public health, Colin Cox, told a virtual meeting of the county’s health and wellbeing board yesterday that “innovative thinking” was being employed to come up with ways to ensure as many people as possible get vaccinated before the looming flu season.

And he revealed that could include using centres like the swabbing hubs employed for coronavirus tests to make sure social distancing can be maintained and to keep people away from GP surgeries and pharmacies.

Mr Cox said: “It’s going to be a complex challenge this year because of course it’s going to be harder to get people vaccinated in the usual way with the need to maintain social distancing but both the NHS systems are very much on top of this.

“This is a very live piece of work that’s going on in terms of the planning and implementation of the local flu campaigns.”

The health chief also provided an encouraging update on the county’s response to the coronavirus pandemic – but warned that the threat of COVID-19 has not passed.

He said the pandemic had so far been a “significant event” for the county, with the more than 550 deaths recorded being twice the worst flu season in the past 50 years.

However, he said the response from councils, health organisations and other partners had been “truly phenomenal” and ensured the NHS had not been overwhelmed and care homes never ran out of personal protective equipment.

Mr Cox confirmed the death rates in Cumbria, adjusted for the age of population, were “slightly lower” than the England average and the weekly rate of new cases is “about half” the national average.

Despite that, the health chief stressed several times that the pandemic was not over and warned that the threat of a second wave of COVID-19, combined with the looming flu season, was something the council was concerned about and preparing for.

He said: “Our hospitals have got a substantial backlog of work that they now need to work to get through, caused by the suspension of cases as hospitals focused entirely on COVID-19 earlier on in the epidemic.

“Primary care is working very differently to the way it has done in the past and is under a huge amount of pressure.

“Care homes feel battered and are still trying to keep residents safe and stop COVID-19 from coming back into the care setting.

“Demand for mental health services is rising and we are expecting a surge in demand for children’s services.

“And we are approaching winter where a second peak of COVID-19 is at the very least very possible and there is a huge amount of work going on to prepare.”