More people could become eligible for a free flu vaccination next winter depending on the levels of Covid infection, NHS England and Improvement (NHSE&I) has said.

In a letter sent to community pharmacies last week (3 February), NHSE&I said there ‘may be policy developments to extend the eligible cohorts during 2021/22’ as was the case this season.

The letter - signed by professor Stephen Powis, national medical director - said that any developments would be ‘informed by the levels and impact of Covid-19 infection to the population’.

‘In this situation, should additional cohorts be introduced, further advice will be communicated as soon as possible,’ it added.

The letter also advised community pharmacies to order 'at least’ enough flu vaccines for 2021/2022 to match the number of vaccinations achieved this season.

‘Most successful’ programme

Mr Powis said in the letter that the NHS will be working to ‘further increase’ flu vaccine uptake and improve equity next winter.

He added that ‘all NHS providers should plan their influenza vaccine ordering to at least equal the high levels of uptake achieved in 2020/21’.

‘For frontline healthcare workers, providers should plan to achieve a 100% offer of vaccination to all appropriate staff groups. School-aged influenza vaccination services should plan to achieve at least 75% uptake across all commissioned year groups,’ the letter said.

It added that this year’s flu programme has been the ‘most successful in the history of the programme’, with providers achieving the ‘best uptake levels yet’ despite the pandemic.

According to the latest PSNC figures, more than 2.6 million people received a flu vaccination in community pharmacies between September and February – over a million more than the sector achieved in the flu season last year.

Meanwhile, Welsh pharmacies delivered a record 37% more flu vaccines between September and December 2020 than in the entire 2019 season.

The 2020/21 flu vaccination programme was expanded due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with the Government setting a target of vaccinating 30 million patients. Shielded patients and their households, and the over 50s, were among the new cohorts.