Millions of Brits won’t be eligible for a flu jab this winter after major change to rollout
Millions of Britons who received a free flu shot last year will not be eligible this autumn, officials have announced.
Invitations are not being handed out to everyone aged 50 to 64, marking a turnaround in the rollout being done during Covid.
Experts called the move short-sighted today, warning that the NHS could be overwhelmed in the event of a major flu outbreak.
UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) bosses previously said the rollout, set to start in September, would revert to pre-pandemic recommendations.
Officials have ruled it would not be cost effective to offer jabs to the additional age group – believed to cover about 12 million people.
The UK Health Security Agency confirmed that people over 65 will be eligible for the vaccine from September 1
Under this year’s flu vaccination, the general cut-off age will be 65.
However, younger Brits with underlying medical conditions that put them at risk of becoming seriously ill are still eligible.
Pregnant women, residents of care homes, NHS and social workers and any close contacts of immunocompromised people are also still on the list.
Children as young as two or three and elementary school students could get the jab, while health chiefs are considering whether high school students should be eligible after getting the jab in recent rollout.
Britons who don’t qualify for a free flu vaccine, or can’t get one, can still pay for one at a pharmacy.
The list of those eligible was confirmed in a letter from Dr Thomas Waite, England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Mary Ramsay, Director of Public Health Programs at the UKHSA and Steve Russell, NHS England’s Director for Vaccinations.
WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR FREE FLU THIS FALL?
The following groups are eligible for a flu vaccine from 1 September 2023:
- those aged 65 and over
- those aged 6 months to less than 65 years in clinical risk groups
- pregnant woman
- all children aged 2 or 3 on August 31, 2023
- children of primary school age (from daycare to group 6)
- those in long-term care homes
- informal carers who receive a care allowance, or those who are the main carer of an elderly or disabled person
- close contacts of immunocompromised individuals
- frontline workers in a social care setting without an employer-led occupational health scheme, including those who work for a registered residential care or nursing home, registered home care providers, voluntary managed hospices, and those employed by those who receive direct payments (personal budgets) or personal health budgets such as personal assistants
Since the start of the pandemic, flu vaccine rollouts have been “ambitious and challenging” as the jab has been offered to “as many appropriate people as possible,” the letter said.
It said the program will protect those most at risk of serious complications from the flu, such as the elderly, pregnant women and those with underlying conditions.
The parameters of the flu jab rollout are guided by advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI).
In their statement on the rollout, the JCVI noted that it is bound by the government’s requirement that it consider the health benefits of pricking 50-64 year olds ‘on a cost-effective basis’.
It said it supported temporarily offering jabs to this cohort during the pandemic due to the risk of co-infection with Covid to ease pressure on the NHS.
While there would be a ‘clear health benefit’ in vaccinating low-risk 50-64 year olds this year, it is unclear whether this would meet ‘strict cost-effectiveness requirements’.
Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, told MailOnline: ‘I think this is very short-term thinking that will inevitably lead to more people getting sick – adding to the pressure on the NHS.
In any case, the Covid pandemic has reinforced the need for improved public health measures, such as vaccination to protect against infectious diseases.
“The current situation with limited access to Covid shots to the over 75s and the most clinically vulnerable raises similar concerns.
“It seems that these decisions about restricting free access to vaccines are more about cutting costs than protecting people’s health.”
Professor Stephen Griffin, a virologist at the University of Leeds, told MailOnline that offering the flu shot to people over 50 has ‘clear health benefits’.
He said: “We have a new virus that continues to circulate, causing multiple waves every year, one of which will most likely coincide with the arrival of flu later this year.
“This has clear implications for our already struggling NHS.”
Data from NHS England shows 82.3 per cent of people aged 65 and over had a flu shot in winter 2020/21
Professor Griffin said the JCVI relied on analyzes from 2012 in which cost-effectiveness for the age group was uncertain.
“I don’t see how the 2012 analysis can be considered relevant today, making the likely explanation for this decision primarily a financial one,” he said.
“This seems to follow a worrying trend where the availability of vaccines is becoming increasingly limited.”
Health chiefs decided last year to limit the flu vaccine rollout to those over 65, despite warnings it was “reckless” and would leave millions unprotected.
But it turned around and offered the jab to all over 50s over fears of a Covid and flu ‘twindemia’ that could cripple healthcare.
Professor Paul Hunter, a public health expert at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline it seems ‘reasonable’ to cut people under the age of 65.
He said the cost of the rollout included potential damage as well as costs.
And many 50 to 64-year-olds will be offered the jab, as some face health risks, work in the NHS or have close contact with an immunocompromised person, Professor Hunter noted.
He said flu shots don’t do a ‘huge amount’ in controlling the spread of the virus, so the aim of the shot is to reduce the risk of serious disease in those at higher risk.
“There’s always a debate about people in the borderline groups, but we have to put a point somewhere and I think the 65th birthday is a reasonable point to cross the line,” added Professor Hunter.