The initial phase of the flu vaccination programme is “well underway”, meaning the eligibility criteria for a free jab will extend to adults aged 50-64 from next month, the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) announced today (November 20).
While the rollout of the flu vaccine to those aged over 50 is “separate” to the future of any COVID-19 vaccine rollout, patients could receive both the flu and COVID-19 vaccinations “in parallel”, according to the DH.
Pharmacists can use the additional stock procured by the DH to vaccinate this cohort of patients from December 1 only, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said in an update to contractors today.
Until then, the flu vaccine doses secured by the DH can only be used to vaccinate patients and frontline workers, who have been eligible for a free flu jab since the start of the national flu programme on September 1.
Earlier this month (November 2), the DH published guidance for pharmacies on how they can order from wholesalers the government-procured extra flu jab stock – which this year includes two million units of a US-licensed flu jab.
However, PSNC warned today that current stock levels of the vaccines are “still less than required to meet the immediate demand”.
The DH flu vaccination stock is “now starting to arrive, with the majority of the manufacturers making their first deliveries of this stock this week”, PSNC added.
Pharmacies should continue placing orders for additional flu jab stock with their wholesalers. The DH said today that there is enough flu vaccine supply to protect more than 30 million people in England this flu season”.
Commenting on today’s announcement, pharmacy minister Jo Churchill said: “More vaccines are flowing into GPs and pharmacies throughout the next few months, and I would urge anyone eligible for their flu vaccine to get one including all health and social care workers.”
Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies CEO Leyla Hannbeck told C+D today that her organisation is disappointed pharmacies were not involved "at planning stages" and it will be "much harder" to offer the vaccines to the new cohort in December, "when prescription volumes peak due to overprescribing".
"We could have done much better with proper engagement as we might have been able to re-allocate some staff resource from November into December,” she added.
Higher flu uptake than the same time last year
According to provisional data published by Public Health England (PHE) yesterday (November 19), flu vaccine update is higher in all at-risk group – except for pregnant women – compared to the same time last year.
The flu vaccine has already been administered to 73% of those aged 65 and over and 38% in the under-65s in a clinical risk group, according to PHE data.
As of November 19, English pharmacies had administered more than 1.9 million doses of flu vaccine, according to provisional data collated by PSNC.
By the end of October, more than 1.7 million flu vaccines had been administered in community pharmacy, which means they broke last year’s record in as little as two months since the 2020/21 service began.