The government will provide free flu vaccines this winter to children aged two to 16 in England and people aged 50 and over or in “at-risk” groups, amidst the double threat of Covid and influenza.
Experts are expecting a record-breaking rollout reaching beyond 35 million people, comprising more teenagers than ever before. Under-16s will be given the vaccine in a nasal spray rather than as a jab. An expanded secondary school program implies, for the first time, pupils up to Year 11 (aged 11 to 16) will be invited, not just those in their first academic year – Year 7 – like previous winter.
When the program starts in September, the flu vaccine will be accessible for free on the NHS to:
- all children between age two and three on 31 August 2021
- all children in primary school and all secondary school pupils aged 11 to 16
- anyone aged six months to under 50 years in clinical risk groups
- pregnant women
- · people aged 50 years and over
- · unpaid carers
- · close contacts of people with weak immune systems (immunocompromised individuals)
- · front-line health and adult social care staff
People who are not in these groups will pay for a flu vaccine at selected supermarkets and High Street chemists once available.
Flu levels were lower than expected across the world compared to winter, which experts attribute to infection control measures started to stop Covid, such as mask-wearing, social distancing and lockdowns.
It is not sure what this winter may hold for flu and Covid.
Research from Public Health England, conducted in the first pandemic wave before any Covid vaccine had been made or given, mentions the risk of death is more than doubled for people who catch flu on top of coronavirus, equated to coronavirus alone.
Flu by itself can be a severe condition too. It kills about 11,000 people in England every year.
Alongside the flu drive, the government is arranging for a booster programme of Covid vaccines for those most vulnerable, like older people and those with underlying health conditions.
Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, mentioned, “Last winter, flu activity was extremely low, but this is no reason for complacency as it means fewer people have built up a defence against the virus.
“Combined with the likelihood that Covid will still be circulating, this makes the coming flu season highly unpredictable.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid stated, “We want to build a wall of protection by immunizing a record number of people.
“With the nation getting closer to normal life, we must learn to live with Covid-19 alongside other viruses and we’re offering the free flu jab to millions more people to help keep them safe this winter.”