A letter from the DHSC, PHE and NHS England providing an update on this year's campaign advised GPs to consider undertaking flu jabs at home for shielded patients and suggested 'social distancing innovations such as drive in vaccinations and "car as waiting room" models' could also be an option this year.
It also revealed that DHSC is 'exploring options to expand the workforce that is able to administer vaccinations as part of the COVID-19 response'. A consultation on these plans will be published shortly, the letter said.
The letter confirmed that the extended campaign, which will see everyone aged over 50 offered the vaccine, will not begin until November and December and will be subject to vaccine supply.
'This extension is being phased to allow you to prioritise those in at risk groups first. Providers will be given notice in order to have services in place for any additional cohorts later in the season,' the letter said.
Extra flu jab supplies
Practices will be expected to use their usual call and recall methods to contact at-risk patients. However, the letter said NHS England was also developing a 'national call and recall service' to support local systems and ensure all eligible patients are encouraged to be vaccinated this year.
The letter stressed that it was 'essential to increase flu vaccination levels for those who are living in the most deprived areas and from BAME communities. We need to ensure equitable uptake compared to the population as a whole and help protect those who are more at risk if they are to get COVID-19 and flu'.
As a result of expected increased uptake this year and expansion of the campaign, the DHSC has obtained extra supply of the adult flu vaccine. The letter said that guidance would be issued in September on when and how practices could access this.
The letter confirms that household contacts of shielded patients will be eligible for the flu jab this year. Practices will not be expected to invite these people for vaccination, but offer them the jab opportunistically and aim to extend the offer to all individuals in this group.
As part of this year's campaign, hospitals will also be asked to vaccinate those in at-risk groups when they attend for inpatient or outpatient appointments and pregnant women when they attend for maternity appointments.
Social distancing measures
In terms of guidance on running flu clinics themselves, the letter said 'providers will be expected to deliver the programme according to guidelines on social distancing that are current at the time'.
Practices should follow the infection prevention and control recommended for primary care, including those relating to PPE.
It said careful appointment planning would be needed to minimise waiting times and maintain social distancing and that patients should be provided with information in advance so they know what to expect when they attend.
The letter also warned that practices 'need to be prepared to make adjustments to the programme in the face of any local restrictions to ensure those at highest risk can continue to be vaccinated'.