The Government has announced its expanded cohort for this year's flu vaccination programme, which is set to target 30 million patients.

Shielded patients and their households will now be eligible for the free vaccination, as well all those aged over 50 as part of a staggered delivery ‘later in the season’, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

There are no details as yet about payment mechanisms for GPs administering the vaccines, supply issues or around what stage of the year it will be delivered to patients between 50 and 64.

The DHSC said: ‘Providers will work to vaccinate more than 30 million people during this flu season – millions more than received it last year.

‘A significant new group will be eligible for the free flu vaccine as people over 50-64 will be invited later in the season for a vaccination.’

It added that it would ‘work with clinicians’ to decide when to invite those aged between 50 and 64 to take part in the programme ‘once vaccination of the most "at-risk" groups is well underway’.

It said: ‘The NHS will contact people directly, including information about where to go to get the vaccine.'

As part of the ‘unprecedented’ cohort, the free vaccine will also be extended to people who are on the shielded patient list and members of their household, as well as all school year groups up to Year Seven.

Also eligible are:

  • People aged over 65
  • Pregnant women
  • Those with pre-existing conditions including at-risk children under two years old

Last season’s target was for 25 million people to receive the vaccination in England but according to PHE’s annual flu report, 15,344,033 patients were vaccinated, the DHSC said.

This included those over 65, those in clinical at-risk groups, pregnant women, children aged 2-3, all primary school-aged children and healthcare workers.

'Key public health asset'

Policy Manager at the National Pharmacy Association, Helga Mangion said: 'Pharmacies will need to do things differently this time around, to meet the increased demand and to accommodate social distancing as well as using PPE.

'But no doubt they will step up to the plate and once again prove themselves to be a key public health asset.'

RPS Director of Pharmacy Robbie Turner said: 'The Government’s plan to expand the flu vaccination programme is excellent news.

'Pharmacists are ideally placed to help and have been an integral part of the vaccination programme for several years, so it makes sense for them to help deliver this expanded programme.'

He added: 'Pharmacies are typically open longer hours than GP surgeries and can often offer vaccinations at any time, making them a very convenient and easy way to protect yourself against flu.'

'Reduce all avoidable risks'

Announcing the new cohort, health secretary Matt Hancock said it is ‘mission critical that we pull out all the stops to get ready for winter’ and ‘protect our NHS’.

Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty added: ‘This winter more than ever, with Covid-19 still circulating, we need to help reduce all avoidable risks.’

NHS England medical director for primary care Dr Nikki Kanani said: ‘GPs, nurses, community pharmacists and others will be going to great lengths this year to give this vital protection to millions more people in a safe and convenient way.’

The DHSC said the expanded programme was part of plans to 'ready the NHS' for the 'risk of a second peak' of coronavirus and to 'relieve winter pressures' on A&E and emergency care services.

This comes after earlier this month, Matt Hancock announced that the government is preparing for 'the biggest flu vaccination programme in history'.

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has called for additional flexibilities from government bodies for contractors to provide flu vaccinations in off-provision sites during the 2020/2021 flu season.

Last month, the Pharmacist learned that Pharmaceutical manufacturers may not be able to meet all the increased demand for flu vaccines this year, during an unprecedented demand for the vaccine worldwide.

A version of this story first appeared in our sister title Pulse