The government intends to put in place an “unprecedented” flu vaccination programme this autumn to help the NHS manage any second wave of coronavirus, with free flu jabs being made available to anyone aged 50-64.
The free flu jab programme is normally only offered free to “at risk” groups and front line NHS workers.
But the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has announced this year’s programme will be extended to a wider cohort of older people, along with people on the coronavirus shielding list and members of their households, all school year groups up to Year 7, people aged over 65, pregnant women, and those with pre-existing conditions, including at-risk under-twos.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “This will be the biggest flu vaccination programme in history, and will help protect our NHS as we head into winter. If you are eligible for a free vaccine, whether it’s for the first time or because you usually receive one, then I would urge you to get it, not just to protect yourself, but to protect the NHS and your loved ones, from flu.”
The programme will primarily be delivered through GP practices and pharmacies, with existing “at risk” groups being vaccinated first and then the programme opened up more widely. The NHS will contact people directly, including information about where to go to get the vaccine, the DHSC said.
However, the move could add to the growing pressures on occupational health providers as workplaces slowly return to ‘normal’ post pandemic. OH practitioners will often be the ones who deliver flu jabs in the workplace as well as encourage take-up via the NHS where appropriate. It is understood some providers have already begun to ramp up hiring of vaccination nurses in response.
Dr Graham Jackson, senior clinical advisor at the NHS Confederation, said: “The decision to expand the free availability of the vaccine to protect vulnerable people is welcome and we would encourage all health and care staff to be vaccinated where appropriate.
“More details are needed about the extra funding for primary care to help administer the biggest and most comprehensive flu campaign that this country has ever seen.”
Councillor Paulette Hamilton, vice chair of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, added: “We are pleased the government has widened the criteria for a free jab and urge it to consider whether a free flu jab can also be offered to everyone else in the country this year.
“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.”