Flu jab for over 50s to protect the NHS as it prepares for winter2020-07-24
Eligibility will also be extended to the households of people currently on the NHS “shielded patient list” and to Year 7 pupils, who are aged 11 to 12. It is already offered to primary school children up to Year 6. Officials hope to double the number of people vaccinated from 15 million last year to 30 million. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the unprecedented plan would help protect the NHS as it prepares for a dangerous winter, with coronavirus still expected to be circulating.
He said: “It’s mission critical that we pull out all the stops to get ready for winter.
“The Prime Minister has already announced £3billion to protect the NHS. We are now taking another important step to help protect the wider public by giving the flu vaccination to more people than ever before.
“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.
“It’s not just to protect yourself, but to protect the NHS and your loved ones from flu.”
The programme will start in September for most groups, including people aged 65 and over, pregnant women, primary school children and those with pre-exising conditions. Once vaccination of these most at-risk groups is well under way, it will expand to include people aged 50 to 64.
The NHS will contact them directly to inform them of where they can get the jab.
Plans are being drawn up to ensure vaccinations can go ahead in the event that lockdown rules have to be tightened or schools closed again.
Experts fear that a double whammy of a second wave of coronavirus and a bad flu season could overwhelm the NHS. Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, said: “Flu can have serious consequences and vulnerable people can die of it. Having the vaccine protects you and helps reduce transmission to others.
“This winter more than ever, with Covid-19 still circulating, we need to help reduce all avoidable risks. Vaccinating more people will help reduce flu transmission and stop people becoming ill.” The Government has secured orders for more than 30 million doses.
Last year the programme expanded to include all primary school-aged children. This year, teams will also visit secondary schools to vaccinate Year 7 pupils.
Anyone who lives with someone advised to shield at the peak of the pandemic will also qualify.
Uptake varies every year – last year around 25 million people were eligible but only 15 million got the jab. Some 72 percent of people aged 65 and over got their jab in England, as did 74 percent of frontline health workers.
Uptake is known to be particularly low among social care staff. All frontline health workers will be strongly urged to take part this year. It is not mandatory but one senior official said it was a matter of “professional responsibility”.
Dr Nikki Kanani, a GP and NHS medical director for primary care, said: “Getting a free NHS flu vaccination is a quick and simple way that people can help to save lives and reduce pressure on our hardworking frontline staff this winter. “GPs, nurses, community pharmacists and others will be going to great lengths to give this vital protection to millions more people in a safe and convenient way.
“So when the time comes I would urge everyone invited for a flu vaccination to get it as soon as possible.”
Dr Vanessa Saliba, head of flu at Public Health England, said: “The flu vaccine is the best defence we have against what can be a serious and even deadly illness. This winter, more people than ever will be offered a free flu vaccine.
“We are urging anyone who is eligible to take up the offer of vaccination.
“By getting the jab, you can help protect yourself, your family and the NHS – it will help save lives.”
Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, welcomed the “sensible” expansion plan but said GPs needed more detail on how it would be delivered. He added: “It is likely that Covid-19 will present challenges to delivering the flu programme.
“We will need to take measures to ensure all patients are safe when they come to get their vaccination, and we will need to ensure people, particularly in at-risk groups, are confident in doing so.
“If a Covid-19 vaccination is available for use then this will also need to be factored in.”
High street pharmacies have already reported unprecedented demand for flu vaccinations long before the summer is over.
LloydsPharmacy said more than 13,000 people had visited its stores to register for the service in the past week.
It is expecting bookings will soar by 50 percent this year.
The company’s vaccination services manager Deep Patel said: “We usually don’t see any bookings for the flu vaccination until at least late August.
“Working alongside the NHS, we are taking every step we can to prepare for a busy season and ensure we are administering the vaccination in a Covid-safe environment.”
Data from the Southern Hemisphere, particularly from Australia, which has its winter before us, can sometimes give an early indication of how severe our flu season will be.
Cases so far appear to be low and experts there believe social distancing may have had an impact on limiting the spread.
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