Over 50s to be offered free flu vaccine to fight 'twin threat' with Covid-19

20 November 2020, 09:57

DHSC said flu vaccine uptake this year is higher in all vulnerable groups except pregnant women compared to the same time last year
DHSC said flu vaccine uptake this year is higher in all vulnerable groups except pregnant women compared to the same time last year. Picture: PA

By Matt Drake

People over 50 will be offered a free flu vaccine as part of an expanded rollout to fight the "twin threats" of flu and Covid-19.

This latest age group can be vaccinated by their GP or pharmacist in England from December 1, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

Earlier this year the Government announced this winter would see the biggest flu vaccination programme in the UK's history, with enough supply to vaccinate 30 million people throughout the flu season.

DHSC said flu vaccine uptake this year is higher in all vulnerable groups except pregnant women compared to the same time last year.

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."

England's deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam urged all those eligible to get the jab.

Read more: Northern Ireland to extend lockdown weeks before Christmas

He said: "Influenza vaccination is a critical tool this and every winter to prevent severe illnesses and potential hospitalisations for thousands of people.

"I urge all those who are eligible for the flu vaccine, including the new group of 50 to 64-year-olds, to book their appointments as soon as they can."

DHSC said GPs, trusts and pharmacists can order additional stock from the Government supply of more than seven million vaccines to vaccinate this latest group.

The Health Secretary dmitted that the task of administering increasing numbers of flu vaccinations this winter was "a big ask" for the NHS.

Read more: WHO suggests swapping Xmas dinner for Covid-friendly 'picnic in the park'

He said that despite the scale of the programme, he hoped the process would be "relatively straightforward."

"I don't deny that it's a huge amount of work for the NHS and I'm very grateful for the unbelievable shift they've pulled this year and we've still got to deliver this this winter," he said.

"There are of course pressures on the NHS this year - by God there's pressures, thanks to Covid - and for everybody who works in the NHS I want to say thank you for the work that you are doing.

More than 40 mass vaccination centres will be set up across England as part of the coronavirus vaccination effort, it has been reported.

The Health Service Journal (HSJ) said that NHS England has told local leaders that each of the 42 health and care systems in England should have at least one mass vaccination site.

Senior sources told HSJ that a larger system could have two.

These are likely to be in conference centres or similar large venues, HSJ added.

Derby City Council said talks were under way with the Government to use Derby Arena as a temporary facility to help administer the vaccine, developed by Pfizer.

The vaccine, said to be 95% effective, is currently awaiting national approval from the UK medicines regulator following successful clinical trial testing involving 43,500 people.

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