More people could become eligible for a free flu vaccination next winter depending on the levels of Covid infection, NHS England has said.
In a letter sent to GP practices last week (3 February), NHS England said there ‘may be policy developments to extend the eligible cohorts during 2021/22’ as was the case this season.
The letter, signed by national medical director Professor Stephen Powis, said that any developments would be ‘informed by the levels and impact of Covid-19 infection to the population’.
‘In this situation, should additional cohorts be introduced, further advice will be communicated as soon as possible,’ it added.
The letter also advised practices to order ‘at least’ enough flu vaccines for 2021/2022 to match the number of vaccinations achieved this season.
Mr Powis said in the letter that the NHS will be working to ‘further increase’ flu vaccine uptake and improve equity next winter.
He added that ‘all NHS providers should plan their influenza vaccine ordering to at least equal the high levels of uptake achieved in 2020/21’.
‘For frontline healthcare workers, providers should plan to achieve a 100% offer of vaccination to all appropriate staff groups. School-aged influenza vaccination services should plan to achieve at least 75% uptake across all commissioned year groups,’ the letter said.
It added that this year’s flu programme has been the ‘most successful in the history of the programme’, with providers achieving the ‘best uptake levels yet’ despite the pandemic.
According to the letter, uptake was 81% in the over 65s, 52% in under 65s with risk factors, 44% in pregnant women and 58% among children aged two and three.
Meanwhile, the letter added that Sanofi vaccine Flublok (QIVr) is not eligible for reimbursement under the flu vaccine programme for 2021/22 ‘at this stage’.
It said that the JCVI has ‘considered’ the use of QIVr in both those aged 18-64 and the over 65s and that further guidance ‘may be issued on this vaccine’.
In November, practices were given the green light to order Flublok to plug gaps in vaccine stock, especially for patients under 65 years old.
The MHRA granted Flublok – a quadrivalent influenza vaccine from Sanofi that has been used widely in the US – a temporary licence for use in the UK in October.
The 2020/21 flu vaccination programme was expanded due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with the Government setting a target of vaccinating 30 million patients.
Shielded patients and their households, and the over 50s, were among the new cohorts.
Additional reporting by Costanza Pearce
A version of this story first appeared on our sister title, the Pharmacist.