Flu jabs for patients aged 50-64 likely to go ahead alongside COVID-19 campaign

NHS officials have suggested plans to vaccinate patients aged 50-64 against flu this year will go ahead - meaning GPs could have to deliver 11.5m more flu jabs alongside a COVID-19 campaign.

Flu vaccination (Photo: Kmatta/Getty Images)
Flu vaccination (Photo: Kmatta/Getty Images)

GP practices in England have been waiting for confirmation of the extent of the 2020/21 flu campaign since the government annouced in July that it hoped to vaccinate more than half the UK population in the largest flu campaign in NHS history.

NHS England director of primary care strategy and contracts Ed Waller told an NHS England webinar on 18 November that plans for an expanded flu campaign and a COVID-19 vaccination campaign that could start next month were 'both important'.

He said: 'An announcement will be made at the right time by the DHSC. We have understood the interaction between the two programmes. They are both important.

Vaccination campaign

'As far as possible both need to be delivered. They need to be delivered in the right way, phased in the right time and there will be an announcement about that as soon as we have one to make.'

GPs have already been warning of 'unrealistic expectations' around the COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

NHS England has said it expects general practice to remain 'fully open and accessible' while delivering COVID-19 vaccinations, despite evidence from LMCs that GPs are already facing workload levels 50% above last year.

There are 11.5m patients aged 50-64 years old registered with GP practices in England who could need to be vaccinated against flu as part of the expanded campaign this year - and the government has suggested as many as 14m doses of COVID-19 vaccine could be available before the end of 2020.

Flu vaccine

Final details of plans for a COVID-19 vaccination enhanced service set to be in place across GP practices in England by the start of December make clear that providers should 'plan on the assumption that there needs to be at least seven days between the flu vaccination and COVID-19 vaccinations' - making clear the two cannot be delivered together.

GPs have been calling for clarity over the extended flu campaign because specifications in the flu DES published earlier this year provide minimal detail on rolling out vaccination to cohorts outside the usual at-risk groups.

The DES says: 'The programme may be further extended in November and December to include those in the 50- to 64-year-old age group subject to vaccine supply and after existing eligible groups have been prioritised.'

It said plans to vaccinate this group would be announced 'later in the flu season', with rollout to each additional year group to be considered and announced separately.

A vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech - of which the UK could receive around 10m doses this year - could be submitted for approval by the MHRA within days and has shown 95% efficacy in final trial results.

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