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The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has made this article free to access in order to help healthcare professionals stay informed about an issue of national importance.
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People aged 50–64 years are now eligible for a free flu vaccine in England, although they will be invited later in the 2020/2021 flu season for a vaccination, the government has announced.
Households of those on the shielded patient list and children in the first year of secondary schools will now also be eligible for the vaccine for the first time.
The expanded flu vaccination programme will cover more than 30 million people — nearly twice as many as the 15,344,033 vaccinated under the scheme in 2019/2020.
The announcement follows warnings from the pharmacy vaccination lead for London that COVID-19 infection control could cut community pharmacy capacity to deliver flu vaccinations by two thirds.
The government said in a statement, published on 24 July 2020, that the expanded scheme is part of plans to ready the NHS for both the risk of a second peak of COVID-19 and to relieve winter pressures on A&E and emergency care.
According to the statement, once vaccination of the most ‘at-risk’ groups is underway, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) will work with clinicians to decide when to open the programme to invite people aged 50–64, with further details to be announced.
The NHS will contact people directly, including information about where to go to get the vaccine.
“It’s mission critical that we pull out all the stops to get ready for winter, and the prime minister has already announced £3 billion to protect the NHS,” said Matt Hancock, the health secretary.
“We are now taking another important step to help protect the wider public by giving the flu vaccination to more people than ever before.
“This will be the biggest flu vaccination programme in history, and will help protect our NHS as we head into winter,” he added.
Nikki Kanani, NHS medical director for primary care, 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, so when the time comes I would urge everyone invited for a flu vaccination to get it as soon as possible.”
Rekha Shah, chief executive officer of Kensington Chelsea & Westminster Local Pharmaceutical Committee and Pharmacy London lead for vaccinations, said that capacity for flu vaccinations would be need to be increased “hugely” in order to deliver on the DHSC’s ambitions.
Shah said that capacity could be increased in community pharmacy — despite the issues posed by COVID-19, such as social distancing and infection control — by relaxing some of the “bureaucracy” around flu vaccination, such as the need for signatures on consent forms and restrictions on where vaccinations are allowed to be done.
She added that the “phased approach” the government was taking to vaccinate those aged over 65 years first, before inviting the additional cohort later in the season, would be “enormously helpful” in managing issues with capacity.
“Additionally, at least in my experience, this is the first time that the different healthcare provider groups in any area are coming together to discuss working together as a team to deliver on the necessary numbers.
“I am sure we will be able to deliver on this ambition so long as the vaccines are available and the target groups accept the need for vaccination and are willing to have it,” she added.