More than 35 million people, including secondary school pupils, will be offered a free flu vaccine this winter under plans announced by the government.
The biggest flu programme in the country’s history will be launched in September, the government said, and will build on the success of last year’s expanded scheme which saw a record number get their jab.
And for the first time, those eligible will include all secondary school pupils up to Year 11 – those aged 15 and 16.
The target for 2021 is almost double the amount of jabs that were administered last winter.
The flu vaccine will be available to:
- All children aged two and three on 31 August 2021
- All children in primary 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
Those aged two and three, primary school children and secondary school children up to Year 11 will be offered the nasal spray vaccine.
The government is preparing to deliver the flu jab to those applicable alongside any booster COVID-19 vaccines on order, the Department of Health and Social Care said, as it acknowledged that “it is possible there will be higher levels of flu this winter”.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JVCI) will publish its final advice on who should be prioritised for a possible third, booster vaccine from September “later this summer”, the department added.
Announcing the winter plan, newly appointed Health Secretary Sajid Javid encouraged all those eligible for a flu jab to come forward.
“Flu can be a serious illness and we want to build a wall of protection by immunising a record number of people,” he said.
“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.
“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.”
Meanwhile Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, warned that the coming flu season is “highly unpredictable”.
“The flu vaccine is safe, effective and protects millions of people each year from what can be a devastating illness,” she said.
“Last winter, flu activity was extremely low, but this is no reason for complacency as it means less people have built up a defence against the virus. Combined with the likelihood that COVID-19 will still be circulating, this makes the coming flu season highly unpredictable.
“We will be preparing for a challenging winter by expanding our world-leading flu vaccination programme to over 35 million people, saving more lives and limiting the impact on the NHS and social care.”
And Dr Nikita Kanani, NHS medical director for primary care, said getting your flu jab could “help save your life”.
“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,” she said.
Responding to the government’s announcement, the chief executive of NHS Providers Chris Hopson said he welcomes the announcement but that such a large flu vaccine programme will take a “huge amount of planning”.
“Trust leaders will welcome today’s announcement which could see millions more people receiving a free flu vaccine as part of a significant expansion of our vaccination programme,” Mr Hopson said.
“Flu is a deadly disease which kills thousands of people every year and puts the NHS under severe pressure every winter. We are urging everyone who is eligible for a flu vaccine to come forward for one when it is their turn.
“Rolling out a flu programme of this scale alongside a COVID booster campaign will take a huge amount of planning, collaboration and commitment, particularly from primary care.
“It is incredibly ambitious in its scale and complexity, and while we have no doubt the NHS can meet this challenge, we do need to think about how we enable NHS staff to carry out this programme while meeting the other pressures they face.
“So we need to create a sustainable workforce approach, maximising our use of volunteers but ensuring NHS professionals can also deliver their day-to-day work.”