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Government announces U-turn on over-50s free flu jabs

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Government announces U-turn on over-50s free flu jabs

All adults aged 50 and over will be eligible for free flu and Covid booster jabs in this year’s NHS vaccination programme in England, health secretary Steve Barclay has said.

In an apparent reversal of the policy announced in March by NHS England & Improvement – which said eligibility for free flu vaccinations would be limited to pre-pandemic criteria – Mr Barclay said on Friday that over-50s will be eligible, but only after more vulnerable groups have been offered a jab.

The NHS will announce in due course how those in eligible groups will be able to book their autumn Covid booster, and how 50 to 64-year-olds who are not in clinical at risk groups will be able to book their flu vaccination.

Mr Barclay said: “I have accepted the independent advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to offer an autumn Covid booster to people aged 50 and over, residents and staff in care homes for older adults, frontline health and social care workers, unpaid carers, individuals aged five to 49 in clinical risk groups and household contacts of those who are immunosuppressed.

“The flu virus could also be highly infectious at this time of year, so today I am also announcing that those eligible for a free flu vaccination this year will include everyone aged 50 and over, primary school children and secondary school pupils in years 7, 8 and 9, as well as people in clinical risk groups, unpaid carers and household contacts of those who are immunosuppressed.”

The PSNC said this was good news for patients, adding that it will be discussing the practical implications of the decision with Government and NHS.

However, PSNC services director Alastair Buxton was highly critical of the handling of the eligibility announcements, saying it could cause significant disruption to pharmacies.

Mr Buxton said: “Many pharmacy contractors originally ordered flu vaccines on the basis that the cohort would be included in the programme, as they had been for the previous two years. They then had to amend these orders when Government decided in March not to include 50-64 year olds in the flu programme.

“The latest volte-face by the Government means contractors need to undertake further work, potentially undoing what they did earlier in the year. This is not the way important public health policy should be handled.

“The delayed start to eligibility for the 50-64 years old cohort will cause confusion and frustration to many patients, which pharmacy teams will inevitably need to manage, adding further pressure to their already challenging workload.”

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