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Record-sized flu programme to target 35 million people for vaccinations

by Nicola Merrifield
19 July 2021

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An expanded national flu vaccination programme this winter will target 35 million people across the UK, the Government has announced.

The 2021/22 programme, due to start in September, will see GP practices, pharmacies and school-based providers deliver the free jabs.

For the first time all secondary school pupils will be eligible for the flu vaccine, creating a significant expansion to the scheme. In 2020, the only extra students added to the programme were those in year 7.

It builds on last year’s record flu vaccination programme, which saw 19 million people vaccinated after aiming for 30 million, following a boost in the number of eligible groups.

People aged 50-64 will again be able to get the jab this winter – after they became eligible for the first time last year.

The Department of Health and Social Care said people in clinical risk groups will be eligible, but this does not include the group of people prioritised for Covid vaccinations due to their clinical risk in relation to coronavirus.

During the 2021/22 season, the full list of those who will be offered the jab is:

  • all children aged two and three on 31 August 2021
  • all children in primary school and all children in school Years 7 to 11 in secondary school
  • those aged six months to under 50 years in clinical risk groups
  • pregnant women
  • those aged 50 years and over
  • unpaid carers
  • close contacts of immunocompromised individuals
  • frontline health and adult social care staff

Social distancing measures and mask-wearing during the Covid-19 pandemic led to low flu levels across the world last year.

Announcing the flu vaccination scheme, the Government said it is ‘possible there will be higher levels of flu this winter, with more of the population susceptible given the low levels last season’.

It reiterated it is preparing to deliver the expanded flu programme alongside a potential booster programme for Covid-19 vaccines this autumn and winter.

A final decision on whether the Covid-19 booster programme will go ahead will be made after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) issue its advice on the matter.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: ‘Flu can be a serious illness and we want to build a wall of protection by immunising a record number of people.

‘With the nation getting closer to normal life, we must learn to live with Covid-19 alongside other viruses and we’re offering the free flu jab to millions more people to help keep them safe this winter.’

He added: ‘The phenomenal scale of the COVID-19 vaccination programme is a clear demonstration of the positive impact vaccination can make and I encourage all those eligible to get their flu jab when called forward.’

Dr Nikita Kanani, NHS medical director for primary care, said: ‘NHS staff across England vaccinated record numbers of people against flu last year – a potentially fatal illness – and they continue to pull out all the stops to deliver the biggest and most successful NHS Covid-19 vaccination programme in health history, protecting their patients and communities.

‘Getting your free flu vaccine if you are eligible as well as keeping up good habits like regularly washing your hands could help save your life, so please do come forward when you are invited to give you and your loved ones vital protection this winter.’

Last year GPs were able to provide flu jabs to the expanded cohort of over-50s by accessing vaccine stock from the Government’s central supply.

It followed warnings that more than three quarters (78%) of GPs had faced ‘limited access’ to flu vaccine stock.

Earlier this month NHS England told GPs they were ‘actively encouraged’ to pool flu vaccines between practices to enable co-administration with the Covid vaccine at a PCN grouping level.

However it still remains unclear how far GPs will be involved in the co-administration of flu and Covid jabs this autumn after NHS England said earlier this week that offering Covid booster jabs offering the vaccinations at individual practice level was ‘not operationally feasible’.

Clinical risk groups eligible for flu vaccination

  • chronic (long-term) respiratory disease, such as asthma (requires continuous or repeated use of inhaled or systemic steroids or with previous exacerbations requiring hospital admission), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or bronchitis
  • chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
  • chronic kidney disease at stage 3, 4 or 5
  • chronic liver disease
  • chronic neurological disease, such as Parkinson’s disease or motor neurone disease
  • learning disability
  • diabetes
  • splenic dysfunction or asplenia
  • a weakened immune system due to disease (such as HIV/AIDS) or treatment (such as cancer treatment)
  • morbidly obese (defined as BMI of 40 and above)

Source: DHSC/PHE

This story first appeared on our sister title, Pulse.