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‘No plans' to reinstate free flu jabs for 50-64-year-olds despite uptake drive

The government has confirmed that it has “no plans” to expand eligibility for the NHS flu vaccination programme despite urging uptake amid an increase in flu-related deaths.  

Speaking at a briefing last week (September 29), UKHSA chief medical advisor Professor Susan Hopkins urged people eligible for free flu vaccines to take up the offer, highlighting recent statistics on excess deaths in England associated with flu - which last winter were the highest they had been in five years.

Professor Hopkins said that UKHSA knows people aged 65 and over are likely “to come forward for their flu vaccine every year”, but that it sees “a lesser uptake in other groups”.

And deputy chief medical officer (CMO) Dr Thomas Waite set out a “plea” to “improve vaccination uptake amongst pregnant women” and “children” specifically.

But a spokesperson from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) told C+D today (October 2) that “there are currently no plans to expand eligibility beyond the criteria that’s already been set out”.

Read more: Flu wars: Which pharmacy chain is offering the cheapest jabs this season?

Earlier this year, the government announced that eligibility for free flu jabs would return to “pre-pandemic” arrangements, meaning that people aged 50-64 are no longer eligible. 

The JCVI keeps the autumn flu and COVID-19 vaccination programmes “under review”, the spokesperson added.

 

Extra support?

 

Meanwhile, when asked about additional support for pharmacies offering an NHS flu vaccination service in light of the drive to increase uptake, NHS England (NHSE) pointed to previous announcements on COVID-19 vaccination incentive payments.

It told C+D last week (September 29) that pharmacies will still be able to claim additional “acceleration” payments for certain COVID-19 vaccinations administered in October, introduced at the end of August after the vaccination service timings were revised.

Responding to C+D questioning at last week’s briefing, NHSE chief delivery officer and national director for vaccinations and screening Steve Russell said that the government was also “not intending to use volunteers to vaccinate in a mainstream way this year”.

He said that “the program is being delivered through larger community pharmacies, GP practices and hospital trusts, who have put in place staffing of their own”.

However, this autumn’s free NHS COVID-19 and flu vaccination services have been met with upset from those in the pharmacy sector.

Community pharmacy leaders criticised “short notice” changes to the start date of the services last month, warning that it “created confusion for pharmacy teams trying to make plans and for the public”.

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