Over-50s will be eligible for free flu vaccines from 1 December in a bid to stop the NHS being overloaded from the “twin threats” of flu and coronavirus during the winter.
In the largest ever flu vaccination programme in England, individuals aged between 50 and 64 will now be able to get flu vaccines from their GP or pharmacy from next month.
Currently the seasonal vaccine is only free for over-65s, pregnant women, young children, at-risk patients and frontline workers.
“This winter is like no other, and we have to worry about the twin threats of flu and Covid-19,” said health secretary Matt Hancock. “Covid means getting a flu jab is more important than ever this year.”
Figures released yesterday by Public Health England showed flu vaccine uptake is higher this year than last winter in all vulnerable groups except pregnant women.
Deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam urged all eligible adults to get their flu vaccine “as soon as possible”.
“Influenza vaccination is a critical tool this and every winter to prevent severe illnesses and potential hospitalisations for thousands of people,” he added.
Around 17,000 people have died from the flu in England annually between 2015 and 2019, though yearly deaths have varied widely, from a high of 28,330 in 2015 to a low of 1,692 in 2019.
According to official government data, 1,802 people were admitted to intensive care or high-dependency units with the flu during the peak winter season last year.
It comes as hospitals around the UK have warned they risk being overloaded with Covid patients as cases continue to rise.
Hospitals in the North-East yesterday warned they will soon see bed shortages and excess deaths if the nationwide lockdown fails slash coronavirus infection rates.
More than 1,500 people were admitted to hospital in England with Covid yesterday, taking the total number of people in hospital with the virus to 13,626.
Announcing the national lockdown last month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned the NHS risked being overwhelmed if the government did not impose immediate restrictions.
The PM has repeatedly leant on the “stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives” mantra that saw England through its first nationwide lockdown in the spring.