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UPDATED: Government U-turns on October start for flu and COVID-19 vaccinations

The start of the autumn flu and COVID-19 vaccination programmes has been brought forward to September 11, the government has announced.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DH) today (August 30) announced that the autumn flu and COVID-19 vaccination programmes will now begin "earlier than planned" in England on September 11.

NHS England (NHSE) announced earlier this month that both NHS vaccinations would be available to residents of older adult care homes from October 2, with appointments to be made available to all other eligible groups the following week from October 7.

The decision sparked a backlash from community pharmacy leaders, who branded the delayed start to the flu service “unacceptable”.

 

“Precautionary measure”

 

The DH today said that the vaccination programmes “will start earlier than planned in England as a precautionary measure following the identification of a new COVID variant”.

 

It follows the UK Health Security Agency’s (UKHSA) latest risk assessment on COVID-19 variant BA.2.86, which was first detected in the UK on August 18 and displays a “high number of mutations”, it said.

 

Read more: UPDATED: NPA threatens NHSE with ‘compensation claims’ over delayed flu programme

 

It added that UKHSA’s advice supported “speeding up” the vaccination programme to ensure “greater protection”, even though the variant is not currently classified as a “variant of concern”. 

 

The DH said that COVID-19 vaccinations are now due to start on September 11, with those living in adult care homes and those “most at risk” the first to receive vaccines.

 

Read more: Contractors reluctant to offer COVID-19 jabs after fee slashed, C+D survey finds

 

It added that the annual flu vaccine will also be made available to vulnerable groups “at the same time wherever possible, to ensure they are protected ahead of winter”.

NHSE “will announce the full details of the accelerated roll-out soon”, it said.

 

COVID-19 and flu vaccinations should be co-administered “wherever possible” for “operational expediency and in line with public health recommendations”.

 

 

“Makes sense”

 

 

UKHSA chief executive Dame Jenny Harries said that it was “difficult to estimate” the impact of the new variant but that the updated start to the vaccination programme will ensure that those who are vulnerable “have protection against any potential wave this winter”.

 

Health minister Maria Caulfield called for people invited to get vaccinated to “come forward as soon as possible” and said that it “makes sense to bring forward” the programme in light of the new variant.

 

Read more: UPDATED: Pharmacy flu jab appointments already booked for September 'can go ahead’

 

She added that it is “vital” for vulnerable people to get vaccinated for their immune systems and to “reduce pressure on the NHS”.

 

Last week, the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) threatened NHSE with legal action over financial losses caused by the delay to the start of this year’s flu programme.

 

Read more: Sector leaders urge ministers to prevent ‘unacceptable’ delayed flu service start

 

NHSE issued a partial reversal of the decision to delay the start of flu vaccinations until October earlier this month, confirming that NHS flu jab appointments that had already been booked for September could still go ahead, despite a delayed start to the service that was only communicated to pharmacies days before.

 

 The NHS flu vaccination service usually launches in England on September 1.

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