Ministers bid to vaccinate half the population against flu

Health chiefs have ordered enough vaccine to inoculate 30 million people against flu, double the 15 million who were vaccinated last year.

If achieved, this means that more than half the population of England will be vaccinated against flu.

The expansion will include extending the free flu jab to anyone between the ages of 50 and 64.

Those aged over 65 are already eligible for the vaccine, along with pregnant women and those with conditions such as diabetes, and children under two years old.

All adults aged 50 and over will be offered a flu vaccination this autumn as ministers look to double the number of people immunised through winter.

Fears of a seasonal flu crisis hitting the UK at the same time as a resurgence of the coronavirus have prompted the government to launch a major expansion of the annual vaccination programme.

Vaccinations will also be extended to all children up to those aged 11 on 31 August, as well as any household contacts for people on the NHS shielding list during the coronavirus crisis.

There will also be a major drive to vaccinate NHS workers and social care staff, with the aim of getting all staff immunised.

Health officials want to ensure as many people as possible are vaccinated against flu heading into winter because of concerns over the impact on the NHS.

Flu season normally leaves the NHS running at or near capacity, and with added pressure from the coronavirus there are real fears that the NHS could struggle to cope.

The extension of vaccinations will be phased in over the autumn months to ensure those most at risk are protected first.

There are no plans to require vaccinations, despite the health secretary, Matt Hancock, warning that this is something the government could consider.

The government has earmarked £3bn to keep the seven Nightingale hospitals ready for patients and to continue using private sector hospitals for NHS patients.

The chief medical officer, 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.”

Councillor Paulette Hamilton, of the Local Government Association, welcomed the expanding vaccination programme: “Extending the free winter flu jab to as many people as possible is essential if we are to tackle two potentially deadly viruses head-on and prevent one seasonable and predictable virus creating the conditions for a second, more serious and unpredictable deadly wave of Covid-19.”

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