GPs face having to immunise millions more people against flu as DH advisers consider plans to extend the annual flu programme and boost uptake among at-risk groups.
Groups considered for inclusion in the vaccination programme include all 10.4m UK adults aged 50 to 64 and around 11m preschool and school-age children.
A special meeting of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises ministers in all four UK governments on vaccination policy, will be held this month.
It will discuss 'possible extensions to the influenza vaccination programme'.
Last year, a JCVI subgroup calculated that vaccinating preschool children was likely to be cost-effective and that vaccinating school-age children may be.
Immunising healthy children would prevent 80% of flu infections and free up 790,000 GP appointments a year, a health economic analysis from York University suggests.
The JCVI subgroup concluded that vaccinating those aged 50-64 is 'unlikely' to be cost-effective, but the RCGP and other experts believe such a move would have wider benefits.
RCGP immunisation lead Dr George Kassianos told GP: 'Most patients with chronic disease are over 50 years of age. If we call in all the over-50s, we have a great chance of immunising many more with chronic disease.'
Dr Kassianos said all children aged six months to five years should be included in the flu programme, as well as women planning to become pregnant during the influenza season.
GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said expansion of flu immunisation would 'depend on the evidence'.
The JCVI is also looking at interventions that 'may improve uptake significantly', such as having a single QOF indicator for all at-risk groups.
Dr Vautrey said more needed to be done to persuade at-risk patients to be vaccinated, rather than expecting GPs to 'chase' patients.
A DH spokesman said: 'We asked the committee to look at whether more people should be offered the flu vaccine each year. They are considering this and will make recommendations to ministers shortly. No decisions have been made.'
- Click here to see our Interactive guide to the flu season