Expanded flu programme to focus on most vulnerable groups first

GPs and community pharmacists across west Essex have welcomed plans to extend the flu vaccination programme to those aged 50-64 who weren’t previously eligible for a free jab.

The flu vaccination programme has been expanded to protect more people as we head into winter with potential risks from both flu and COVID-19.

However to protect the most vulnerable in society the flu vaccinations will first be only available to all those aged 65 and over, people with certain long-term medical conditions, pregnant women, and young children.

Residents in the area aged 50 to 64 who are not in a clinical risk group will be offered the vaccine later in the winter season when more stock becomes available. This could be in November or December 2020. In the meantime, residents are being asked to be patient. This will allow GPs to focus on vaccinating those most vulnerable first.

Rob Gerlis, Harlow GP and Chair of West Essex CCG, said: “I’d like to say thank you to staff at all our practices at this time, who are working so hard to ensure all the additional people eligible for the flu vaccine this year will get it in a timely manner. We are pleased to be able to expand our flu campaign this year.

“However, we would ask you to wait until we have vaccinated the very vulnerable, young and elderly, then we will be ready and able to vaccinate those aged over 50. We will have more information after 1 November. Let’s work together to support the NHS this wintertime and keep our patients safe and well.”

When available, people who fall into the new category will be contacted with more information.

Until then it is important that those who are eligible do take up the offer of a flu vaccine. Flu is more than just a bad cold. Some people may need to stay in bed for a few days but for others who are more vulnerable it can lead to more severe illness, can worsen existing illness and can lead to pneumonia or bronchitis. In the worst cases, flu can result in a stay in hospital, or even death.

This year, more than ever before, it is important for patients at risk to have the flu vaccination due to the potential risk of COVID-19, said Rob.

He added: “Flu vaccination offers important protection against flu, saves lives and helps to reduce the pressure on the NHS in the busy winter months. Expanding the programme is welcome but it is important that those usually at higher risk are protected first as they are likely to be more seriously affected by flu.”

Practices and pharmacies are following strict guidance and social distancing measures to make sure that it is safe for you to come for your vaccination. When you are offered your vaccine, please take the opportunity to gain this valuable protection for yourself and your community.