The Government has today announced its expanded cohort to all over 50s for this year’s flu jab programme, which is set to target 30 million patients.
Shielded patients and their households will now be eligible for the free flu jab, as well as over 50s as part of a staggered delivery ‘later in the season’, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.
There are no details as yet about payment mechanisms for GPs administering the vaccines, supply issues or around what stage of the year it will be delivered to patients between 50 and 64.
It comes as general practice was last week omitted in plans for £3bn in extra funding to help the NHS ‘get ready for winter’ during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The DHSC said: ‘Providers will work to vaccinate more than 30 million people during this flu season – millions more than received it last year.
‘A significant new group will be eligible for the free flu vaccine as people over 50-64 will be invited later in the season for a vaccination.’
It added that it would ‘work with clinicians’ to decide when to invite those aged between 50 and 64 to take part in the programme ‘once vaccination of the most “at-risk” groups is well underway’.
It said: ‘The NHS will contact people directly, including information about where to go to get the vaccine.’
As part of the ‘unprecedented’ cohort, the free vaccine will also be extended to people who are on the shielded patient list and members of their household, as well as all school year groups up to Year Seven.
Also eligible are:
- People aged over 65
- Pregnant women
- Those with pre-existing conditions including at-risk children under two years old
Last season’s target was for 25 million people to receive the vaccination in England but according to PHE’s annual flu report, 15,344,033 patients were vaccinated, the DHSC said.
This included those over 65, those in clinical at-risk groups, pregnant women, children aged 2-3, all primary school aged children and healthcare workers.
Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the RCGP, said: ‘This announcement of an extension to the flu programme is sensible as we prepare the NHS for a busy winter and potential second wave of Covid-19, but GPs and our teams, who will be delivering the majority of vaccinations, need more detail about the practicalities of how it will work.
‘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.’
He added that Covid-19 ‘will present challenges’ in terms of safely delivering the vaccine, especially to vulnerable patients, and added that a potential Covid-19 vaccine ‘will also need to be factored in’.
Announcing the new cohort, health secretary Matt Hancock said it is ‘mission critical that we pull out all the stops to get ready for winter’ and ‘protect our NHS’.
Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty added: ‘This winter more than ever, with Covid-19 still circulating, we need to help reduce all avoidable risks.’
And NHS England medical director for primary care Dr Nikki Kanani said: ‘GPs, nurses, community pharmacists and others will be going to great lengths this year to give this vital protection to millions more people in a safe and convenient way.’
The DHSC said the expanded programme was part of plans to ‘ready the NHS’ for the ‘risk of a second peak’ of coronavirus and to ‘relieve winter pressures’ on A&E and emergency care services.
The deputy chief medical officer this week clarified that GPs will not be able to co-administer Covid-19 and flu jabs due to safety concerns, after the health secretary suggested this could be the case.