30 million in England to be offered flu vaccine for free
The government has said that around 30 million people in England will be offered a free flu vaccine ahead of winter.
The move will help relieve typical winter pressures on health services in readiness for a second wave of Covid-19 coincide with the annual flu season.
All people over the age of 50 will be offered a vaccine for free, as well as any who have been shielding during the Covid-19 pandemic as well as members of their household.
Children in their first year of secondary school will also be offered the vaccine.
There are believed to be greater health risks associated with contracting both Covid-19 and flu simultaneously, and the winter pressures of a typical flu season alongside a second Covid-19 outbreak could overwhelm the NHS.
Health and care workers will be pushed to receive the vaccine themselves to avoid large numbers of staff becoming ill with flu at one time and leaving a shortage of people working on the frontline.
Others who will be eligible for the free flu vaccine include individuals with medical conditions such as diabetes, heart failure and asthma, pregnant women, pre-school children over the age of two and all primary school children.
The programme will begin in September and will exceed last winter’s programme which saw the free vaccine offered out to 25 million in England.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: "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."
GP Dr William Bird told the BBC that expanding the immunisation programme was “exactly the right move” but warned that the logistics of an increased programme would be a challenge.
Dr Bird said: "I think there's going to be a real strain on the actual production. Hopefully the government has procured extra flu vaccine already, because at the moment it looks like there's a struggle to get the existing ones in place.
He added: "I think there's going to be a big surge of people who are eligible, which is good, but it's just whether there's going to be enough vaccine around to be able to supply everyone that's needing it."
The government is also compiling plans to ensure that Covid-19 will not hinder flu vaccination, since schools tend to be the venue where immunisation is administered to children.
Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said: "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."
Plans for flu immunisation programmes in the devolved nations have not yet been revealed.