The NHS flu programme has been extended to include those aged 50 and over, people shielding amid the coronavirus pandemic, as well as those who live with them, and children in their first year of secondary school.
The move comes amid heightened concern among experts about the impact of the annual flu season coinciding with a possible surge in Covid-19 and potentially overwhelming the NHS.
People in England are also being urged to volunteer as a scheme to help the NHS and the vulnerable has been extended after performing one million “acts of kindness”.
The volunteers will help run large flu vaccination clinics as part of the NHS’s largest ever winter protection drive.
Speaking about the scheme last week, Ruth May, England’s chief nursing officer, said: “NHS staff are working hard to ensure those who need it can access expert care over the coming months, and volunteer responders will continue to play an important role supporting them and their local communities, including helping to deliver the largest ever NHS flu vaccination drive.
“It’s vital that everyone plays their part in the fight against Covid by following the national lockdown guidance and the specific new advice from the Government on keeping yourself safe if you are in a vulnerable group.”
So, here’s what you need to know about the Government’s plans for the flu vaccination programme:
Who is currently eligible for a free flu jab?
The free NHS flu programme is for people aged 65 and over, pregnant women, people with certain conditions such as kidney disease, asthma or heart disease and carers or those in care homes.
Frontline health and social care workers are eligible to receive the vaccine.
The flu jab is also free for children over six months with a long-term health condition, those aged two and three and those in primary school.
Last year, around 15 million people received an inoculation, including 74 per cent of England’s frontline healthcare workers.
Who will also now be covered under the extended scheme?
The programme has been extended to include all school year groups up to year 7 and anyone aged 50 and over.
People who are being asked by the Government to shield themselves amid the Covid-19 pandemic and members of their household will also be eligible for a free jab.
Why was the vaccination programme extended?
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said extending the vaccination programme was part of a “mission critical” push to prepare the NHS for the winter.
“We are now taking another important step to help protect the wider public by giving the flu vaccination to more people than ever before,” he 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.”
England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, meanwhile said the vaccine would help “protect” people and reduce flu transmission.