Britain said on Saturday it would expand its winter flu vaccination programme to millions more people, making it the most extensive ever, as it seeks to avoid pressure on hospitals with the COVID-19 pandemic still circulating.
The government said it would offer shots to 35 million people including older schoolchildren and all those aged over 50 as part of a programme starting in September that would be delivered alongside the possible delivery of COVID vaccine booster doses.
“Flu can be a serious illness and we want to build a wall of protection by immunising a record number of people,” health minister Sajid Javid said.
“With the nation getting closer to normal life, we must learn to live with COVID-19 alongside other viruses and we’re offering the free flu jab to millions more people to help keep them safe this winter.”
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Last year, 81% of people aged 65 and over in England received a flu shot. So far 88% of the adult population in Britain have had their first COVID dose and 67.5% are fully vaccinated.
Admissions to hospital for treatment for flu during the winter typically puts the state-run National Health Service under huge pressure, and health officials fear a combination of serious flu cases along with people still needing treatment for the coronavirus could leave hospitals struggling to cope.
“Last winter, flu activity was extremely low, but this is no reason for complacency as it means less people have built up a defence against the virus,” said Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director at Public Health England.
“Combined with the likelihood that COVID-19 will still be circulating, this makes the coming flu season highly unpredictable.