GP practices will deliver flu jabs to patients aged 50-64 from 1 December, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has announced.
Practices will be able to access vaccine stock from the Government’s central supply for the newly eligible group, it added.
NHS England said ‘as many people as possible’ in the age range should be vaccinated prior to receiving any Covid-19 vaccine. It urged practices to start ordering additional flu vaccines and arranging extra appointments with immediate effect.
It comes as MPs were last week warned that three-quarters of GPs are struggling to access enough flu vaccine stock.
The DHSC today announced that adults aged 50-64 are now eligible for a free flu jab from 1 December as part of the flu vaccination programme delivered in GP practices and community pharmacies.
Eligible groups now include all over 50s, pregnant women, those with certain pre-existing conditions, NHS and social care workers, children up to Year Seven and household contacts of those who are clinically extremely vulnerable.
Previously, NHS England said that the new cohort of people aged 50-64 would not be eligible until November at the earliest and subject to stock availability.
GPs warned in October that clinics faced ‘uncertainty’ amid a lack of details about the expansion.
The DHSC today said: ‘GPs, trusts and pharmacists can order additional stock to vaccinate this new group from the centrally secured government supply of over 7m vaccines.
‘This has been secured amid high global demand for more flu vaccine and now means vaccines can be provided to this group over December and into the New Year. There is enough flu vaccine supply to vaccinate 30m people throughout this year’s flu season in England.’
It added that the ‘initial phase’ of the programme is ‘well underway’, with uptake ‘higher in all vulnerable groups except pregnant women compared to this time last year’.
Provisional Public Health England (PHE) data suggests that 73% of those aged over 65, 45% of 2-year-olds and 47% of 3-year-olds have had their vaccine, the DHSC said.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘This winter is like no other, and we have to worry about the twin threats of flu and Covid-19.
‘Covid means getting a flu jab is more important than ever this year, so we are delivering the largest ever flu vaccination programme. Free vaccinations for 50-64 years olds will now be available from GPs and Pharmacies starting from 1 December.’
Primary care minister Jo Churchill added: ‘To prepare for this challenging winter, we committed to protect as many people as possible from the flu, to keep those at risk safe and reduce the strain on our NHS. I am pleased we are now able to deliver on that commitment with those aged 50 to 64 invited to get their free flu vaccine from the start of December.
‘These vaccinations are already being given to our existing priority groups and that vital work will continue. More vaccine is 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.’
It comes as practices are gearing up to deliver a major Covid vaccination programme as soon as a candidate gains approval from the MHRA.
The DHSC said that the NHS is ‘well equipped to administer both’ the flu vaccine and a Covid vaccine ‘in parallel’.
It added that further details of the Covid vaccination ‘deployment plan’ will follow.
In a bulletin sent by NHS England to practices this morning, it said: ‘General practices and community pharmacies will be able to vaccinate all 50-64-year olds from 1 December, and should begin planning now, for example, ordering additional stock and organising appointment slots.’
It added: ‘It is important to make every effort to ensure as many people as possible in this cohort are vaccinated prior to delivery of the Covid-19 vaccine.’
The Government is targeting 30 million people in this year’s expanded flu vaccination campaign, with a larger number of patients having been made eligible for free flu jabs.
NHS England has said GP practices should prepare to deliver flu jabs to eligible cohorts until February next year to ‘ensure all cohorts are covered’.
GPs have already exceeded last year’s flu vaccination rates, despite worries around supply – which led to new restrictions on the export of flu vaccine supplies to protect UK supply.
Meanwhile, GPs in Northern Ireland will be able to restart flu clinics after having to cancel them following a shortage of the vaccine for under-65s.