Health secretary Steve Barclay announced last week that “everyone” aged 50 and over will now be eligible for a free flu jab in the upcoming season.
It marks a U-turn on NHS England and NHS Improvement's (NHSE&I) announcement in March 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.
The move was welcomed by some pharmacy bodies including the Association of Independent Multiple pharmacies (AIMp) – although its CEO Leyla Hannbeck warned that the government must “ensure there is sufficient availability of flu vaccine”.
Read more: 50-64-year-olds now eligible for free flu jab in 2022/23 season, DH confirms
The Department of Health and Social Care (DH) has been approached for comment.
Meanwhile, Viatris, Seqirus, and Sanofi told C+D they are confident they will be able to meet increased demand for flu vaccines this coming season. Read their statements below.
Viatris: Amend orders within next month
A Viatris spokesperson told C+D yesterday (July 19) that the manufacturer welcomes the DH’s “recognition of the importance" of providing free flu vaccinations for 50-64-year-olds.
Read more: Boots responds to ‘huge demand’ for flu jabs by opening bookings early
It invited pharmacy contractors to “amend or place new orders” in line with the new guidance within the next month, by contacting the Viatris Influvac Customer Care team on freephone: 0800 358 7468, or by email at [email protected].
“We understand that there may be a higher demand for flu vaccines in the UK, potentially requiring more doses than previously ordered, and we always aim to work with customers to meet their flu vaccine requirements,” the spokesperson added.
Seqirus: “Well placed to meet increasing demand”
Seqirus told C+D it welcomes the DH’s commitment to protect a larger portion of the population and said it is “well placed to meet the increased demand for seasonal influenza vaccine this year”.
“As we enter a third influenza season during which over 50s will be eligible for free vaccination, there are indications from the southern hemisphere that the upcoming season may be more severe.
“This makes influenza vaccination more important than ever to help to protect all at risk and eligible populations especially as COVID-19 persists,” the spokesperson added.
Having learned from its experiences of supplying flu vaccines during the past two seasons, the manufacturer is “now working with public health officials to ensure that there are adequate supplies for eligible populations”, they said.
“Last year, advanced planning and close working with our public health partners enabled us to supply vaccines for the UK’s largest ever influenza vaccination campaign, setting a new benchmark for public health protection,” they added.
Sanofi: Extra jabs “available for order”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Sanofi told C+D that the company continues to work with the DH on flu vaccine supplies.
“We can confirm that additional flu vaccines remain available for order through the usual channels.
“At the time of writing, we are confident we will meet flu vaccine orders made by our customers in the UK,” they added.
Read more: Which pharmacies administered the most flu jabs last season?
Wholesalers expecting bigger orders
From a wholesaler’s point of view, Healthcare Distribution Association executive director Martin Sawer told C+D that he is “pretty confident that wholesalers will be expecting their community pharmacy orders to reflect the success” or the previous flu service, “when the NHS flu jab eligibility was extended”.
“However, wholesalers will usually only order stock from the manufacturers when they have a firm understanding (or actual orders) from the community pharmacy sector, so as to avoid wastage,” he added.
Read more: Pharmacies in England administered almost 4.8 million flu jabs in 2021/22, PSNC confirms
A Numark spokesperson told C+D it is "confident" that wholesaling arm Phoenix will be able to meet the added demand following the addition of the new target group, having already "committed to an ambitious target for our 2022/23 flu vaccination programme".
"We have already updated our booking platform and will start opening up the waiting list for the new patient group this week - we are all geared up to deliver our most successful flu season to date,” they commented.
Meanwhile, Alliance "welcomed" the news that all patients over 50 will be eligible for free flu vaccines.
The wholesaler currently has stock available to pre-order, which it urged pharmacies to pre-order "as soon as possible"
Pharmacy teams in England administered almost 4.8 million flu vaccinations in the 2021/22 season.