The Welsh Government has expanded its flu vaccination programme so that people over 50 and those living with people in the shielded group will be eligible for a free vaccine this winter.

The vaccine will continue to be freely available to existing eligible groups, including those aged over 65 years, pregnant women and people with medical conditions, Vaughan Gething, minister for health, said on Friday (24 July).

Additional supplies of the nasal spray flu vaccine, which is offered to children, will be made available to maximise uptakeof the vaccination programme offered to 2 and 3 year olds, and to all children currently in primary schools in Wales, Mr Gething added.

Community pharmacists will play a 'key role' in the delivery of vaccines to the expanded cohort a Welsh Government spokesperson told the Pharmacist today (27 July.)

A spokesperson for Community Pharmacy Wales (CPW) told the Pharmacist that the sector is ‘keen to assist’ in the rollout of the new programme.

They said: ‘Over recent years, community pharmacy has played an increasing role in delivering flu vaccinations in Wales and we fully expect that to continue.

‘The Welsh Government has been discussing the expansion of vaccine provision with us and we are keen to assist with broadening the range of those receiving the immunisation. Now, more than ever, it is critical that community pharmacy is able to adapt and redesign our service provision in line with ever changing and ever increasing demands.

‘Our willingness to deliver flu vaccines to an expanded cohort is a reflection of our readiness to play as full a role as possible in public health provision in Wales.’

‘Protect the vulnerable’

Announcing the new cohort, Mr Gething said: ‘This winter more than ever we need to protect the most vulnerable in our community and continue to protect our NHS.

‘By extending the flu vaccine to more people than ever before we can help prevent people becoming ill and reduce pressure on the NHS this winter. I would urge anyone who is eligible to have the vaccine.’

It comes after the UK Government announced its expanded cohort for this year’s flu vaccination programme in England, which will include all those over 50, shielded patients and their households, and all school year groups up to Year 7.

There are no details as yet about payment mechanisms for health professionals administering the vaccines under the English programme, supply issues or when it will be delivered to patients between 50 and 64.

‘Adequate vaccine supplies’

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government told the Pharmacist that it was ‘examining the best options for expanding eligibility for the seasonal flu vaccine in 2020-2021'.

They said: ‘We will set this out when we have confidence that there are adequate supplies of vaccines in order to deliver on any commitments we make. These options will be driven by the best clinical evidence available.’

A spokesperson for Northern Ireland’s Department of Health said that the flu vaccination plans in Northern Ireland ‘are still being finalised’ and will be ‘announced in due course’.

Last month, the Pharmacist revealed that some UK 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.