Adults over 50 and some secondary school pupils to get free flu jab

Hope that vaccines will avert NHS being overwhelmed by flu season alongside a resurgent coronavirus

All adults over 50 and children in the first year of secondary school in England will be offered a free flu vaccination this autumn in a campaign to try to avoid the NHS being overwhelmed in the event of a second Covid-19 wave.

In a bid to escape the nightmare scenario of a bad flu season alongside a resurgence of the coronavirus, the government has successfully secured contracts for 30 million doses of flu vaccine, double the number that were administered last year.

The biggest issue is likely to be ensuring the jabs go to those who most need them. Healthcare workers, who are always offered a flu vaccination, have not always taken it up in past years. Meanwhile, government health advisers do not want fit and healthy 51-year-olds to rush to get vaccinated until they are sure that there is good take-up amongst the older people and those with underlying health conditions, who are likely to do worse if they contract either disease.

“It’s mission critical that we pull out all the stops to get ready for winter, and the prime minister has already announced £3 billion to protect the NHS,” said health secretary Matt Hancock.

“We are now taking another important step to help protect the wider public by giving the flu vaccination to more people than ever before. This will be the biggest flu vaccination programme in history, and will help protect our NHS as we head into winter.

“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, not just to protect yourself, but to protect the NHS and your loved ones, from flu.”

Flu vaccination is already offered to all children aged two and three, and all primary school children, but now will be extended to those in the first year of secondary school in order to protect the older and more vulnerable people in their families.

Among adults, priority will be given to all those aged 65 and over, pregnant women, people with underlying health conditions and health and social care staff, as it is now. Anyone living in the household of somebody on the Covid-19 shielding list will also be invited to get a jab. After that will come a phased call-up for other adults over the age of 50.

Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, stressed the harm flu can do. “Flu can have serious consequences and vulnerable people can die of it. Having the vaccine protects you, and helps reduce transmission to others,” he said.

“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.”

Vaccination will not be made mandatory for health and social care workers, even though substantial numbers every year do not have a jab. Last winter, 74% of frontline health workers were vaccinated, but in some regions there appears to be greater reluctance than in others – as few as 66% in the south west had a flu jab. In a bid to increase the rates in recent years across England, vaccination stalls were set up in hospital reception areas, to catch staff on the way in and out.

Government sources say the UK has secured sufficient supplies of the latest flu vaccine, even though many other countries will also have been buying up stocks. None of the vaccine will be delivered until September, however, and it then arrives in batches. Most years GP surgeries experience temporary shortfalls at times until new stocks come in. Vaccination will go on throughout the autumn and even into late December if necessary.

The Local Government Association urged the government to consider giving everybody a flu jab. “It is absolutely critical that all our health and care workers get themselves vaccinated, to protect both themselves and the people they look after including our elderly and most vulnerable, from a potentially devastating second wave of infections,” said Paulette Hamilton, vice chair of the LGA’s community wellbeing board.

“Councils’ directors of public health should oversee the wider rollout of the flu jab in their areas in order to use their local knowledge and expertise to ensure as many people as possible can get themselves vaccinated.”

Contributor

Sarah Boseley Health editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
NHS aims to deliver over 1m daily Covid and flu jabs in race against time
Health service to start administering boosters and jabs for children amid growing fears of winter crisis

Denis Campbell, Pamela Duncan and Tobi Thomas

16, Sep, 2021 @2:10 PM

Article image
GPs in England left waiting up to a month for flu vaccine supplies
Exclusive: Royal College of GPs is seeking assurances that enough doses are available

Denis Campbell Health policy editor

04, Oct, 2020 @3:09 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson says 'anti-vaxxers are nuts'
Prime minister urges people to use expanded programme of free winter flu jabs

Peter Walker Political correspondent

24, Jul, 2020 @9:35 AM

Article image
Pharmacies in England pause online flu jab bookings as demand soars
Boots, LloydsPharmacy and Well Pharmacy report unprecedented take-up and many chemists run out of stock

Sarah Marsh

24, Sep, 2020 @10:51 AM

Article image
Is the UK in for a bumper flu season this winter?
Experts warn population immunity will have waned, as studies look at combining Covid and flu vaccines

Ian Sample Science editor

25, Jun, 2021 @2:50 PM

Article image
Experts study viability of giving flu and Covid jabs at same time
Findings on side-effects and vaccine efficacy expected by August or September as NHS prepares for potential flu surge

Natalie Grover Science correspondent

22, Jun, 2021 @2:09 PM

Article image
Getting flu with Covid doubles risk of death, says UK health chief
Both flu and Covid-19 will circulate this winter, warns head of UK Health Security Agency

Maya Wolfe-Robinson

10, Oct, 2021 @10:59 AM

Article image
Record 35m people will be offered free flu jab to ease pressure on NHS
Vaccine drive comes amid warnings of a nightmare winter as immunity falls due to Covid restrictions

Nicola Davis Science correspondent

16, Jul, 2021 @11:01 PM

Article image
Demand for flu vaccine soars as countries plan for second Covid-19 wave
Manufacturers warn they will struggle to meet demand as governments seek to ease pressure on health services

Ian Sample Science editor

14, Jun, 2020 @6:00 PM

Article image
NHS aims to give 35m flu jabs amid warnings of up to 60,000 deaths
Service aims to immunise more than half the population amid fears of particularly deadly flu season

Ian Sample Science editor

07, Oct, 2021 @11:00 PM