Community pharmacists in England have slammed the government’s latest decision to reduce the number of people who get a free winter flu jab in the 2022-23 flu season, as concerns related to Covid-19 still exist.
This follows a letter from the NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) to clinicians, which stated that the flu vaccination service in 2022-23 will be offered to patient groups eligible in line with pre-pandemic recommendations. The eligibility was widened significantly after the pandemic struck in 2020 to help reduce the death toll from the Covid-19.
With the change in place people aged 50-64 and schoolchildren aged 11-15 will not be eligible to receive the free jabs on the NHS next winter, pushing millions of people to pay for their jabs privately.
It further recommended that vaccination for frontline healthcare workers and social care workers should be provided by employers as part of the organisation’s policy to prevent the transmission of infection.
“It’s shortsighted to cut back on this sensible public health measure, given that no one can say for certain that we’ll be through the Covid pandemic by next winter”, Nick Kaye, the vice-chair of the National Pharmacy Association told The Guardian.
The decision will place more pressure on A&E units if people get flu and need medical attention, he said, adding, “In any event, the NHS will be under huge pressure for several years to come, and wide access to the flu vaccine helps keep people away from the hospital front door.”
As per the letter, the eligible cohort includes people over 65 years, adults who fall under the clinical risk groups, pregnant women, and children aged two-10 on August 31.
It stated that the decision is based on the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
Dr Leyla Hannbeck, the chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, told the Telegraph: “No one has communicated to the public that the offer of flu jabs this year is going to be any different to last year. Last year, over-50s were being told they should get their jab, now the advice has changed but no one is explaining why. It’s going to cause so much confusion.”