GP practices should start vaccinating healthy 50-64-year-olds against flu from 15 October, an update to the annual flu letter has said.
It comes after the new health secretary Steve Barclay announced last week that both free flu jabs and Covid boosters would be rolled out to the over-50s who are not in at-risk groups this autumn.
At the time, it was announced that healthy 50-64s would receive a flu vaccination ‘later in the season’.
An update to the annual flu letter, published 21 July, said that providers should ‘start vaccinating this age group from 15 October 2022’.
Service specifications outlining payment and reimbursement for GP practices ‘will be published shortly following negotiations’, according to NHS England.
The letter added that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) ‘are not centrally procuring additional vaccine for the healthy 50 to 64-year-olds’.
It said: ‘Providers are asked to order additional stock directly from manufacturers for this additional cohort, based on vaccine coverage that was achieved over the last two years.’
Flu vaccine manufacturers Sanofi, Seqirus and Viatris ‘have indicated that they still have flu vaccine stocks available to order’, it added.
It is ‘expected that some vaccines will arrive mid-October’ but manufacturers ‘will confirm anticipated delivery times when orders are placed’, the letter said.
Practices can also purchase additional vaccines via ‘the wholesale route’ and will be reimbursed for any doses administered to patients in eligible cohorts, it added.
The letter said that the ‘most vulnerable cohorts should be prioritised over the otherwise healthy 50 to 64-year-olds and given the most effective vaccines available first’
QIVr (recombinant Quadrivalent Influenza Vaccine) or QIVc should be given to more vulnerable groups ‘where possible’, while QIVe ‘should be reserved for otherwise healthy 50 to 64-year-olds’, it added.
Accompanying guidance on flu vaccine reimbursement, also published by NHS England today said that GPs should place orders ‘with more than one manufacturer to ensure providers receive sufficient stock’.
This is because ‘due to manufacturing processes and commissioning arrangements, some vaccines may only be available in limited quantities’, it added.
It said: ‘We strongly urge providers to order sufficient volumes of clinically appropriate vaccine to serve their eligible populations in order to provide coverage at least equal to and ideally exceeding 2021/22 uptake levels.
‘Adult flu vaccine manufacturers have advised that orders can be placed immediately and are still being taken for vaccine deliveries from mid-October.’
Meanwhile, the updated flu letter also set out that any remaining flu vaccines could be offered to children in school years 10 and 11 if available.
Previously, it was announced that free flu jabs would be offered to secondary school children in years 7, 8 and 9 in order of school year starting with the youngest, along with the healthy 50-64s ‘later in the season’.
However, the updated letter said that as part of the ‘additional cohorts’ offered the jab this year, the rollout will be ‘focusing on years 7, 8 and 9’ and then ‘any remaining vaccine will be offered to years 10 and 11, subject to vaccine availability’.
It added: ‘Secondary school children will be offered vaccination as far as it is possible to do so, with primary schools and lower years 7, 8 and 9 prioritised, and older ages offered vaccination once an offer has been made to younger children and subject to vaccine availability.’
Secondary school-aged children will be offered the jab through the school-age immunisation service.
Must demonstrate ‘100% offer’
NHS England’s new guidance set out that GPs must ‘demonstrate a 100% offer and achieve at least the uptake levels of 2021/22 for each cohort’.
It said: ‘GPs and school-based providers must actively invite 100% of eligible individuals (e.g. by letter, email, phone call, text) and ensure uptake is as high as possible. Evidence may be requested requiring that providers demonstrate details of how and when these offers were made.
‘The contractual requirement to offer 100% of eligible children a vaccination and vaccinate all consented children by 15 December 2022 will be reinstated.’
Any national call and recall process commissioned by NHS England will ‘only supplement, and not replace, localised call and recall as a contractual obligation for participating GPs’, it added.
The guidance also said that GPs will also ‘want to work closely’ with their PCN to maximise vaccine coverage and minimise vaccine wastage, to ‘support the achievement of incentives’ within their contract.
And it added that GPs should ‘align delivery’ of the flu jabs with ‘other commissioned vaccination programmes that the patient may be eligible for’, such as Covid, shingles or pneumococcal vaccines, where ‘clinically permissible and operationally feasible’.
Earlier this year, it was announced that the expanded campaign for free flu jabs would be scrapped, but this was overturned last week with the renewed inclusion of the over-50s and secondary school pupils.