The delayed start to flu vaccine eligibility for the 50 to 64-year-olds cohort will prompt ‘confusion and frustration’ to many patients, and add ‘further pressure to the already challenging workload' of pharmacy teams, PSNC has warned.

The Government announced on 15 July that everyone aged 50 and over will be offered a flu vaccination and Covid-19 booster this autumn, but said those aged 50 to 64 'will only be eligible [for the flu vaccination] once the most vulnerable have been offered the jab,' including those aged 65 and over and those in clinical risk groups.

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) said 'the NHS will announce in due course when and how eligible groups will be able to book an appointment for their Covid-19 autumn booster, and when people aged 50 to 64 who are not in a clinical risk group will be able to get their free flu jab.'

But PSNC's director of NHS services, Alastair Buxton, warned that 'the delayed start to eligibility for the 50 to 64-year-olds cohort will cause confusion and frustration to many patients, which pharmacy teams will inevitably need to manage, adding further pressure to their already challenging workload’.

He said this delay 'seems very unwise' in 'a year when the government is concerned about the potential impact of respiratory illness on individuals and the NHS,' as 'pharmacy’s experience of late commencement of the cohort in an earlier year suggests this approach will also reduce the number of people who take up the offer of vaccination.'

Mr Buxton also highlighted the practical implications of the Government reversing its previous decision not to include the 50 to 64-year-olds cohort within the annual flu vaccination programme.

He said the development is ‘very welcome’ from a public health perspective, but pointed out that many pharmacies have had to undertake extra work because of the U-turns.

He explained: ‘Many pharmacy contractors originally ordered flu vaccines on the basis that the cohort would be included in the programme, as they had been for the previous two years. They then had to amend these orders when the Government decided in March not to include 50 to 64-year-olds in the flu programme.

'The latest volte-face by the government means contractors need to undertake further work, potentially undoing what they did earlier in the year. This is not the way important public health policy should be handled. We hope lessons will be learnt to improve the quality of the policy development process in the future.'

Meanwhile, the Company Chemists' Association (CCA) said it 'welcomes the decision to accept the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation on who can have free Covid-19 boosters and flu jabs this autumn’.

The CCA's chief executive, Malcolm Harrison, said: ‘Community pharmacies have turbo-charged the Covid-19 vaccination programme over the past 18 months and last year we witnessed the most successful community pharmacy flu campaign ever.

'We can see how community pharmacy is playing an ever-greater role in our nation’s public health through vaccination, with patients recognising the expertise available, as well as the convenience of high street pharmacies.

'We’re proud that the sector will continue to play a critical role in the national drive to fight Covid-19.'

PSNC said it is 'discussing practical implications' with the DHSC and NHS England, ahead of the publication of the service specification for the 2022/23 Flu Vaccination Service.

Meanwhile, Moderna has ‘completed regulatory submissions’ for its new Omicron Covid vaccine, which could be used for autumn boosters in the UK if approved by the MHRA.