An expanded national flu vaccination programme this winter will target 35 million people across the UK, the Government has announced.

The 2021/22 programme, due to start in September, will see pharmacies, GP practices, and school-based providers deliver the free jabs.

For the first time all secondary school pupils will be eligible for the flu vaccine, creating a significant expansion to the scheme. In 2020, the only extra students added to the programme were those in year 7.

It builds on last year’s record flu vaccination programme, which saw 19 million people vaccinated after aiming for 30 million, following a boost in the number of eligible groups.

People aged 50-64 will again be able to get the jab this winter – after they became eligible for the first time last year.

The Department of Health and Social Care said people in clinical risk groups will be eligible, but has not made it clear whether this includes the group of people prioritised for Covid vaccinations due to their clinical risk in relation to coronavirus.

During the 2021/22 season, the full list of those who will be offered the jab is:

  • all children aged two and three on 31 August 2021
  • all children in primary school and all children in school Years 7 to 11 in secondary school
  • those aged six months to under 50 years in clinical risk groups
  • pregnant women
  • those aged 50 years and over
  • unpaid carers
  • close contacts of immunocompromised individuals
  • frontline health and adult social care staff

Social distancing measures and mask-wearing during the Covid-19 pandemic led to low flu levels across the world last year.

Announcing the flu vaccination scheme, the Government said it is ‘possible there will be higher levels of flu this winter, with more of the population susceptible given the low levels last season’.

It reiterated it is preparing to deliver the expanded flu programme alongside a potential booster programme for Covid-19 vaccines this autumn and winter.

A final decision on whether the Covid-19 booster programme will go ahead will be made after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) issue its advice on the matter.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: ‘Flu can be a serious illness and we want to build a wall of protection by immunising a record number of people.

‘With the nation getting closer to normal life, we must learn to live with Covid-19 alongside other viruses and we’re offering the free flu jab to millions more people to help keep them safe this winter.’

He added: ‘The phenomenal scale of the COVID-19 vaccination programme is a clear demonstration of the positive impact vaccination can make and I encourage all those eligible to get their flu jab when called forward.’

Dr Nikita Kanani, NHS medical director for primary care, said: ‘NHS staff across England vaccinated record numbers of people against flu last year – a potentially fatal illness – and they continue to pull out all the stops to deliver the biggest and most successful NHS Covid-19 vaccination programme in health history, protecting their patients and communities.

‘Getting your free flu vaccine if you are eligible as well as keeping up good habits like regularly washing your hands could help save your life, so please do come forward.’

This comes after Joe Churchill, said last week at a conference that pharmacies are expected to deliver more flu vaccines this autumn, while also ‘significantly’ contributing to the Covid booster programme.

Figures from the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) show community pharmacies alone vaccinated 2,617,628 during the 2020/21 programme, over one million more than the sector achieved in the entire flu season last year.

Community pharmacies also exceeded the 2019 flu vaccine record in just two months of the 2020 service, vaccinating more than 1.7 million patients by November.

A version of this story first appeared on our sister website, Pulse.