New flu vaccine programme to be 'largest in UK history'

The health minister today announced the largest flu vaccination programme in UK history. It is hoped that expanding flu vaccinations will reduce the pressure on the NHS during flu season this year, as part of preparations for a COVID-19 second wave. 

As part of an unprecedented drive, a free flu vaccine will also be available to:

  • people who are on the shielded patient list and members of their household
  • all school year groups up to year 7
  • people aged over 65, pregnant women, those with pre-existing conditions including at-risk under 2s

Once vaccination of the most ‘at-risk’ groups is well underway, the department will work with clinicians to decide when to open the programme to invite people aged 50 to 64, with further details to be announced. The NHS will contact people directly, including information about where to go to get the vaccine.

Increased vaccinations will help to reduce pressure on the NHS this winter by preventing flu-sickness which can cause hospitalisation and even death.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said:

It’s mission critical that we pull out all the stops to get ready for winter, and the Prime Minister has already announced £3 billion to protect the NHS.

We are now taking another important step to help protect the wider public by giving the flu vaccination to more people than ever before. This will be the biggest flu vaccination programme in history, and will help protect our NHS as we head into winter.

If you are eligible for a free vaccine, whether it’s for the first time or because you usually receive one, then I would urge you to get it, not just to protect yourself, but to protect the NHS and your loved ones, from flu.

Eligible groups are urged to get their free vaccine every year. The flu can be a serious and life threatening disease, especially for at risk groups. However with COVID-19 still in circulation, this year’s campaign will be particularly vital to protect the most vulnerable and reduce the number of people needing flu treatment from the NHS.

Seasonal flu can be spread by children among themselves and to adults. Last year, the flu programme was expanded to include all primary school aged children, and this year teams will be visiting secondary schools to vaccinate children in year 7. Authorities hope that this will contain the spread of this year’s seasonal flu protecting children and vulnerable adults they may be in contact with.

Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty said:

Flu can have serious consequences and vulnerable people can die of it. Having the vaccine protects you, and helps reduce transmission to others.

This winter more than ever, with COVID-19 still circulating, we need to help reduce all avoidable risks. Vaccinating more people will help reduce flu transmission and stop people becoming ill.

All frontline health and social care workers will also be urged to get their free vaccine to protect themselves and their patients or residents from the flu.

15,344,033 people were vaccinated during last (2019-2020) flu season, according to Public Health England's annual flu report. This covers over 65, those in clinical at risk groups, pregnant women, children aged 2 to 3, all primary school aged children, and healthcare workers.

Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said:

“Flu, alongside a second Coronavirus wave, could be devastating. That is why Keir Starmer demanded that a comprehensive flu vaccination programme be put in place ahead of the winter, including free vaccinations for the over 50s.

“It’s welcome ministers have listened to Labour but they must offer a guarantee that the programme will be offered to all over 50s this winter. We will do all we can locally and nationally to encourage take up of the flu vaccine.”

The government also announced £3bn of new funding. This funding will be available to NHS trusts immediately, and will allow the NHS to continue using private hospital capacity and maintain the Nightingale hospitals until the end of March 2021.