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50-64-year-olds now eligible for free flu jab in 2022/23 season, DH confirms

“Everyone” aged 50 and over will now be eligible for a free flu jab in the 2022/23 season, the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) has confirmed.

New health secretary Steve Barclay announced the addition of this eligible cohort this afternoon (July 15), outlining wider eligibility for this season's flu and COVID-19 vaccination programmes.

The move signals a change in direction from instructions laid out by NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) in March, which said that the list of patients eligible for a free jab would be in line with “pre-pandemic” recommendations, scrapping eligibility for those aged 50-64.

Mr Barclay said that “the flu virus could be highly infectious at this time of year”. 

Following advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), free flu vaccination this year will also include primary school children and secondary school pupils in years 7, 8 and 9, as well as people in clinical risk groups, unpaid carers and household contacts of those who are immunosuppressed. 

 

PSNC “discussing practical implications”

 
In a statement released this afternoon, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) confirmed it is now “discussing the practical implications of this decision with the DH and NHSE&I”.
 
“These discussions include the availability of additional flu vaccine for order,” it added, “as in March this year, many contractors reduced their orders following the government’s original decision that the 50-64-year-old cohort would not be included in this year’s flu vaccination programme”.
 
PSNC will provide further information to contractors as soon as possible, it confirmed.
 
PSNC director of NHS services Alastair Buxton welcomed this development, but he is concerned about the “further work” contractors will need to undertake following this “latest volte-face” by the DH.
 
“This is not the way important public health policy should be handled,” he added.

The delay in beginning the vaccine rollout to the 50-64 cohort “will also cause confusion and frustration to many patients”, he said, “which pharmacy teams will inevitably need to manage, adding further pressure to their already challenging workload”.

The move may also reduce the number of eligible people who take up the offer of vaccination, Mr Buxton said.
 
“In a year when the government is concerned about the potential impact of respiratory illness on individuals and the NHS, this delay seems very unwise,” he said.

COVID-19 booster eligibility

 

Mr Barclay also confirmed that COVID-19 booster vaccines will be extended to people aged 50 and over, following a final recommendation from the JCVI.

The programme is now expected to start in England in “early autumn”, and the DH will release further details – including how people will be invited for vaccination – “nearer the start of the programme”.

Following JCVI advice, the following cohorts will also be eligible for a COVID-19 booster vaccination:

  • residents and staff in care homes for older adults
  • frontline health and social care workers
  • unpaid carers
  • individuals aged five to 49 in clinical risk groups and household contacts of those who are immunosuppressed.

 

“Government needs to ensure sufficient vaccine availability”

 

Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) chief executive Malcolm Harrison welcomed the move to accept the JCVI’s advice.

“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,” Mr Harrison said.

The CCA is “proud” that “the sector will continue to play a critical role in the national drive to fight COVID-19”, he added.

Meanwhile, Association of Independent Multiple pharmacies (AIMp) CEO Leyla Hannbeck tweeted that pharmacies “will once again play an integral role in the vaccination programme”.

The “government needs to ensure sufficient vaccine availability to enable pharmacies play their full part in this national effort”, she added.

Last year, pharmacy teams in England smashed their previous flu jab administration record within just two months of launching the 2021/22 service.

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