Plans for this year’s seasonal flu vaccination campaign have been set out by NHS England, with further guidance on any Covid-19 vaccination programme to follow.
In a letter to GPs today, officials said flu vaccination remains a ‘critically important public health intervention’ and will be a key priority for 2023 to 2024 to reduce morbidity, mortality and hospitalisation while the NHS is managing winter pressures and continuing to recover from the impact of pandemic.
Eligible cohorts focus on the over-65s, younger at-risk groups and pregnant women, the guidance said, as well as a target of 75% of front-line healthcare workers. Low-risk 50-64-year-olds are not included this year, having been eligible only as part of a temporary expansion during the pandemic.
‘The delivery of the NHS flu immunisation programme over recent seasons has been both ambitious and challenging as we sought to offer protection to as many eligible people as possible, exceeding the World Health Organization (WHO) target for those aged 65 years and above for a third season running,’ NHS England and the UK Health security Agency noted.
Providers are expected to deliver 100% offer to eligible groups and should aim to ‘equal or exceed’ last season’s uptake, especially in clinical risk groups, young children and pregnant women it added.
The enhanced specifications in the GP contract for delivering the vaccination campaign will be updated shortly, it said.
But it added that with the exception of frontline workers in certain social care settings, ‘please be aware the vaccination of all other frontline health care staff will not be reimbursed and does not qualify for a payment’.
While an exact date for the campaign has yet to be set, patients will be eligible from the start of September to ensure they are protected before flu starts to circulate.
The letter also contains details of which vaccines are recommended with no changes from the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation and providers tasked with ensuring they have adequate supply.
‘Due to manufacturing processes and commissioning arrangements, some vaccines may only be available in limited quantities or batches of vaccine may be subject to delay.
‘Therefore, it is recommended that orders are placed with more than one manufacturer to ensure providers receive sufficient stock. Providers should remain flexible when scheduling vaccination sessions and be prepared to reschedule if necessary’, it added.
As well as Covid-19 boosters, GPs are also being encouraged to align their flu vaccination programme with vaccines a patient may be eligible for including shingles, pertussis, or pneumococcal vaccines, ‘where it is clinically acceptable, operationally feasible, and where the patient is content’.
Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at UKHSA, said: ‘The annual flu letter, detailing vaccination plans for the following winter, is issued in advance of the flu season to facilitate planning for effective delivery.
‘Every year the flu vaccination programme offers direct protection to those at higher risk of serious illness from flu, including older people, pregnant women, and those in clinical risk groups.’
Note: This article was updated at 15.49 on 26 May 2023 to reflect that unlike last year, low-risk 50-64-year-olds are not eligible for flu vaccination this year.