Amid concerns over the impact that influenza could have this winter because of a lower level of population immunity, the government is setting ambitious targets for the national flu immunisation programme for 2021/2022 which stars this autumn.
In a jointly published letter by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), Public Health England (PHE) and NHSE&I, community pharmacists have been asked to further support increased uptake rates and offer further protection to this vulnerable group of patients.
The regulator’s uptake ambition is to achieve a minimum of 85 per cent in those aged 65 years and older; a minimum of 75 per cent uptake across the under 65 years clinical risk group, pregnant women and the aged 50 to 64 years; and at least 70 per cent uptake in children.
Additionally, the aim is to reduce levels of inequality with no group or community having an uptake of more than 5 per cent lower than the national average.
At the end of February 2021, the NHS vaccination services had vaccinated a record 80.9 per cent of those aged 65 years and over in England, exceeding the World Health Organization uptake ambition of 75 per cent. The services also achieved the highest recorded vaccination levels for frontline healthcare workers, 2- and 3-year-olds, and at-risk groups.
The letter also highlights the risk of a lower level of population immunity against influenza because of non-pharmaceutical intervention measures taken to protect the population in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
As restrictions lift and the population returns to pre-pandemic norms of social mixing and social contact, the letter draws attention to how this could result in the 2021/2022 winter having co-circulation of seasonal influenza virus (and other respiratory viruses) and Covid-19.
With modelling suggesting the influenza impact could be up to 50 per cent larger than that typically seen, it reinforces the message that the vaccination programme will be essential to reduce pressure on the health and social care system this winter.
Contractors are advised to read the national flu immunisation programme update letter in full but a summary of the key information for contractors is provided below.
The expanded influenza vaccination programme introduced in the 2020/21 season continues and the letter confirms that the vaccination of 50 to 64-year-olds will, as part of measures to protect those aged 50 years and older from the risk of hospitalisation, also continue as a temporary measure.
Therefore, those eligible for NHS influenza vaccination in 2021/22 from community pharmacies are:
- those aged 18 to 49 years in clinical risk groups;
- pregnant women;
- those aged 50 years and over;
- those in long-stay residential care homes;
- close contacts of immunocompromised individuals; and
- frontline health and social care staff employed by:
- a registered residential care or nursing home;
- registered domiciliary care provider;
- a voluntary managed hospice provider; and
- Direct Payment (personal budgets) and/or Personal Health Budgets, such as Personal Assistants.
The letter reinforces the Government’s expectation that all frontline health and social care workers should have an influenza vaccination to protect those they care for.