Major Expansion to England's Flu Vaccine Programme

Peter Russell

July 24, 2020

A significant expansion of this winter's influenza vaccine programme has been announced by the Government.

It will mean that around 30 million people in England – almost half of the population – will be eligible to receive it.

For the first time, people aged 50 to 64 will be entitled to receive the flu vaccine for free.

It will also be available to children in their first year of secondary school.

The programme's expansion is designed to help prepare against a traditional flu season coinciding with a possible 'second wave' of COVID-19.

Protecting the NHS This Winter

Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care in England, said: "This will be the biggest flu vaccination programme in history, and will help protect our NHS as we head into winter."

For this season, flu vaccines will first be available to:

  • People who are on the shielded patient list and members of their household

  • All school year groups up to year 7

  • People aged over 65, pregnant women, and those with pre-existing conditions, including at-risk under 2s

Later in the year, once the vaccination programme is "well underway", the Department of Health and Social Care will consult with clinicians about when to open the programme to those aged 50 to 64.

The NHS will contact those in this group with information about where they should go to be vaccinated, which may involve a trip to a local pharmacist.

All frontline health and social care workers will again be urged to get their free vaccine to protect themselves, their patients, and those in their care.

Expansion of the flu vaccination programme will be a major challenge to the NHS which last year vaccinated 15,344,033 people – around half those who will be invited this year.

Prof Chris Whitty, the Government's chief medical adviser, said: "This winter more than ever, with COVID-19 still circulating, we need to help reduce all avoidable risks.

"Vaccinating more people will help reduce flu transmission and stop people becoming ill."

Expansion of the programme was welcomed by the Local Government Association (LGA). Paulette Hamilton, vice chair of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: "It is absolutely critical that all our health and care workers get themselves vaccinated, to protect both themselves and the people they look after, including our older and most vulnerable people, from a potentially devastating second wave of infections.

"Councils' directors of public health should oversee the wider rollout of the flu jab in their areas in order to use their local knowledge and expertise to ensure as many people as possible can get themselves vaccinated."

GPs Call for Clarification on Supplies and Workload

The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) said that expanding the flu vaccination programme was "sensible" but questioned whether vaccine stocks would hold up. The College's Chair, Prof Martin Marshall, said: "Practices plan meticulously for the flu season every year to ensure the vaccination programme runs smoothly and as many people as possible get vaccinated – they will have made their orders at the beginning of the year and will need to amend these.

"We also need assurance that the Government can guarantee adequate supply for everyone covered under the extension."

The RCGP said that ensuring patient safety with the SARS-CoV-2 virus circulating would be an additional challenge for practices. That burden could be intensified if a vaccine against COVID-19 became available during the winter months.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health welcomed inclusion of children in their first year of secondary school.

Prof Helen Bedford, an immunisation expert at the College, said: "Unlike COVID-19, the flu virus can make children very sick and they are super spreaders.

"Flu vaccination protects the child and the rest of the community, including older relatives."

Plans for the forthcoming flu season in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have not yet been announced.


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