24 Jul Expansion of flu jab programme to reach 30 million in England to mitigate impact of COVID-19 | UK News
The government is aiming to give flu vaccinations to 30 million people in England this year, adding jabs for 11-year-olds and those aged over 50.
The vaccine is currently free for people over the age of 65 and those with certain medical conditions but it is hoped that doubling the reach of the programme will mitigate the impact of COVID-19 this winter.
There are concerns that people could suffer from both COVID-19 and seasonal flu at the same time, and that the NHS could be overwhelmed by a second wave of the coronavirus.
Last year, around 15 million people received the jab for seasonal flu, including pregnant women, people with certain conditions such as kidney disease, asthma or heart disease, along with carers and care home residents.
Free jabs will now also be available for Year 7 children and people living with someone on the NHS shielded patient list. For over-50s the jabs will be phased in, with priority given to high risk groups.
However, there are concerns not all GP surgeries will have enough fridge space to accept the number of doses they will need.
Reena Barai, a pharmacist in south London, welcomed the expansion of the free jabs but said it would be a “challenge”.
Ms Barai said working out how to double the number of vaccines will require planning and help from the Department for Health.
She said: “I hope the NHS will support us to make sure we make a success of this… Winter is one of our busiest periods so having to plan how we have time to be in a consultation room to provide flu vaccines, as well as helping people coming into our pharmacy who are coming in with lots of issues, with minor illnesses and minor ailments that they may have already and obviously making sure we maintain a supply of medication will be something that we’ll be thinking through.”
During the 2019/2020 flu season, 72.4% of people aged 65 and over got their jab in England, as did 44.9% of those in high risk groups aged six months to 64.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has urged people who are eligible to get the flu jab.
He said: “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.”
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “Flu, alongside a second coronavirus wave, could be devastating. That is why Keir Starmer demanded that a comprehensive flu vaccination programme be put in place ahead of the winter, including free vaccinations for the over-50s.
“It’s welcome ministers have listened to Labour but they must offer a guarantee that the programme will be offered to all over-50s this winter. We will do all we can locally and nationally to encourage take up of the flu vaccine.”