Ask the expert: Why is the flu jab programme being expanded?

This year will see a more comprehensive flu vaccination programme. Why is this and is it connected to COVID-19?

Flu vaccine

There is a strategic NHS plan to get more people vaccinated against the flu this winter. The Government have stated that, in addition to the people who normally would be recommended to have the flu vaccine (people who have lymphoma are in this category) the recommendation this year covers extended groups of people. 

The free flu vaccine will initially be available to: 

Once vaccination of the most ‘at-risk’ groups is well underway, the NHS will decide when to open the programme for people aged 50-64, with further details to be announced. We understand that the NHS will contact people directly, with information about where to go for vaccination. 

The aim of vaccinating more people is to reduce the incidence of seasonal flu by creating a high level of immunity in the community. Without this, you are more likely to contract the flu yourself, and more likely to infect others. With a high level of community vaccination, it is passed on to fewer people.

There are good reasons for wanting to keep the seasonal flu under control, particularly this winter: 

  • Flu is more serious for the same group of people who are at increased risk from COVID-19 - older people, those with heart or respiratory problems and those who are immunosuppressed. 
  • According to the NHS website, research shows that you are more likely to be seriously ill if you get flu and COVID-19 at the same time.
  • If we have a flu outbreak, it will be an extra burden on the NHS. 

We know that both COVID-19 and seasonal flu are more dangerous for those who are older and those with health conditions, so it is hoped that around 90% of this group can be vaccinated against the seasonal flu. There are some who will not be able to be vaccinated, but as long as there are high levels of vaccination in the country, it is expected that the transmission of flu will be reduced. 

 

With thanks to Dr Cathy Burton, Consultant Haematologist at St James's University Hospital, Leeds and Philip Hook, Pharmacist at North Bristol NHS Trust, for answering this question.

28 October 2020