In a joint letter announcing the details of the national flu immunisation program 2020/21 health bodies said it was ‘more important than ever’ that community pharmacies ensure they have ‘sufficient stocks’ of the adult flu vaccination.

In light of the Covid-19 pandemic Public Health England (PHE), NHS England and the Department of Health, have asked community pharmacies and GPs to ‘urgently review’ their vaccine order to ensure they have enough vaccines to ‘meet at least national ambitions and previous uptake rates, whichever is highest’.

If stocks are not sufficient, orders may need to be increased with suppliers, said PHE in a letter issued to primary care providers today. It also warned there may be increased demand from all existing groups of people eligible for the vaccine.

The letter stressed that health and care services may be faced with both Covid-19 and flu this winter and said it was ‘more important than ever’ to deliver flu vaccination.

Primary care providers should aim to schedule their immunisation services to match vaccine supply, usually from September, and complete vaccination by the end of November, said the advice.

Community pharmacies offering a flu vaccination service to eligible adult patients have been reminded that they will be required to do so in accordance with the Community Pharmacy Seasonal Influenza Vaccination Advanced service specification for 2020/21.

The PHE letter reminded practices they must only use the specific vaccines recommended in NHS England guidance in order to be reimbursed.

Health officials said they recognise that delivering the flu immunisation programme is likely to be ‘more challenging’ due to the impact of Covid-19 on health and social care services.

It noted that staff absences in combination with uncertainties about how long social distancing and school closure policies would be in place were adding to the challenges.

Further guidance about how to manage the immunisation programme to reflect these circumstances will be issued nearer the planned start of the programme in September 2020, said the letter.

It added: ‘Discussions to consider expansion of the flu programme for this autumn are underway, and we will write again with any changes in due course.’

In addition, health officials said they expect universal vaccination of health and care workers, with further guidance on this coming out in ‘due course’.

The letter said: ‘Those most at risk from flu are also most vulnerable to Covid-19. We must do all we can to help protect them this winter.’