Plans for this year’s seasonal flu vaccination programme have been set out by NHS England (NHSE) and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
In a letter sent to GPs last week, officials said that flu vaccination remained a ‘critically important public health intervention’ and would be a key priority for 2023 to 2024, however concerns have been raised over feasibility.
Sharon White, chief executive of the School and Public Health Nurses Association (SAPHNA), said that the suggested timeline for completing childhood immunisation ‘will not be achievable’ without significant investment into the workforce.
The letter detailed that all children aged two or three on 31 August 2023, and primary school children up to school Year 6 will be eligible for the vaccination. However, NHSE also stated that ‘an expansion to secondary school-aged children (Years 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11) is being considered’.
The letter stated that eligible school aged children will be ‘offered by the school age immunisation service’ and that providers should aim to complete vaccination of the school-aged cohort by December 15.
While Ms White said the plan was ‘laudable’ and would increase protection for the wider population if achieved, she also warned it would not be possible ‘without a significant investment into school nurses, many of whom still lead the school aged immunisations’.
‘Even where there are separate dedicated school immunisation teams this won’t happen,’ Ms White said.
She also highlighted a ‘worrying lower uptake’ in childhood immunisations and explained the need for ‘dedicated resources’ to address the issues driving this trend, including on school attendances, anti-vaccination propaganda and poverty’.
Other eligible cohorts for the free flu jab this year focus on the over-65s, younger at-risk groups and pregnant women, the guidance said, as well as a target of 75% of front-line healthcare workers.
However, it was announced that people aged between 50 and 64 years old will not be eligible for a free flu vaccination in the 2023/24 season for the first time since 2020.
‘The delivery of the NHS flu immunisation programme over recent seasons has been both ambitious and challenging as we sought to offer protection to as many eligible people as possible, exceeding the World Health Organization (WHO) target for those aged 65 years and above for a third season running,’ NHSE and the UKHSA noted.
Providers should aim to ‘equal or exceed’ last season’s uptake, especially in clinical risk groups, young children and pregnant women it added.
The enhanced specifications in the GP contract for delivering the vaccination campaign will be updated shortly, it said.
But it added that with the exception of frontline workers in certain social care settings, ‘please be aware the vaccination of all other frontline health care staff will not be reimbursed and does not qualify for a payment’.
While an exact date for the campaign has yet to be set, patients will be eligible from the start of September to ensure they are protected before flu starts to circulate.
The letter also contains details of which vaccines are recommended with no changes from the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation and providers tasked with ensuring they have adequate supply.
‘Due to manufacturing processes and commissioning arrangements, some vaccines may only be available in limited quantities or batches of vaccine may be subject to delay,’ it said.
‘Therefore, it is recommended that orders are placed with more than one manufacturer to ensure providers receive sufficient stock. Providers should remain flexible when scheduling vaccination sessions and be prepared to reschedule if necessary,’ it added.
NHSE and the Department of Health and Social Care have been contacted for comment.