This year’s flu vaccination programme should be extended to all over 50s to avoid the normal flu season ‘bringing the NHS to a grinding halt’, the Royal College of Physicians has said.
The RCP said the measure, which should be brought in if there is enough vaccine, should be among a number of actions taken to avoid the NHS becoming overwhelmed.
The college also said this should include bringing forward flu vaccinations for all NHS and social care staff aiming for a 100% uptake; and could include expanding the programme to all patients in the clinically extremelly vulnerable group; as well as to institutional settings such as prisons.
It further said that should a Covid-19 vaccine become available in time, it should be administered alongside the flu vaccination to ‘reach as many people as possible’.
NHS England told GP practices in May that the winter flu programme was set to be ‘substantially expanded’. At the time, it said that the Department of Health and Social Care would be making a decision on the issue ‘shortly’.
The DHSC has still not communicated a decision, although it has been reported that they are considering offering flu vaccination to all over 50.
RCP chair Professor Andrew Goddard said: ‘With lockdown further loosening this weekend for many, there is no time to waste in ensuring that the NHS and social care are prepared for the very real potential of future Covid-19 waves.”
‘It is crucial that we learn the lessons from the last three months, as well as considering the additional challenges that future waves may bring if they coincide with winter flu.’
‘Staff across the NHS are nervous about what lies ahead and we owe it to them to do everything we can to ensure that the system is ready to cope.’
The call has also been backed by the Labout Party, with leader Sir Keir Starmer telling Sky News: ‘Very important is that, fro vaccines for ordinary flu, if you like, influenza, are ramped up, and we are calling for vaccination for all of those over 50.
‘It would be the perfect storm this winter if we had an outbreak of influenza at the same time as the possibility of a second spike in Covid because the symptoms are very similar. The SAGE advice back in April was that this needs to be done.’
It comes as manufacturers have said they may not be able to provide flu vaccines being ordered for this winter, following an ‘unprecedented’ surge in demand worldwide.