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Covid variant: NHS flu and covid vaccine programmes brought forward

Millions of eligible people will now be offered a covid vaccine from 11 September, in line with the latest expert guidance on the new covid variant.

This change follows an announcement by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) on the risks presented by the new BA.2.86 variant and pre-emptive measures the NHS has been asked to take.

The adult covid and flu vaccination programmes had been due to start in October to maximise protection over the winter months, but now those most at risk including adult care home residents will be vaccinated from 11 September.

The NHS has been asked to bring the programme forward and will be working quickly to ensure as many eligible people as possible are vaccinated by the end of October.

Residents of older adult care homes and those most at risk including those who are immunosuppressed will receive their covid vaccine first.

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Carers, pregnant women, and health and social care staff will all be among the groups to be offered a covid jab this winter, as well as adults aged 65 and over.

Eligible people should wait to receive an invite from their local provider.

From 18 September, the NHS will start to invite people in priority order of risk and those eligible will be able to book an appointment on the National Booking Service.

The NHS winter flu and COVID-19 vaccination programme provides vital protection to those eligible and their families over winter, keeping people from developing serious illnesses and helping to minimise hospitalisations during busy winter months.

Following the JCVI’s recommendation that adults over the age of 65 and those with underlying health conditions would be eligible for a flu and COVID-19 vaccination this year, the offer was due to start from early October to maximise protection for patients right across the winter months.

Now with the increased risks presented by the COVID-19 variant BA.2.86, vaccine sites can vaccinate those eligible for both flu and covid from 11 September.

To support the accelerated programme, vaccine providers will receive an additional payment of £10 (in addition to the Item of Service (IoS) fee) for each COVID-19 vaccination administered to care home residents between Monday 11 September and Sunday 22 October 2023 inclusive; and a separate one-off additional payment of £200 for each Completed Care Home by the end of the day on Sunday 22 October.

For other eligible groups, vaccine providers will receive an additional £5 acceleration payment (in addition to the IoS fee) will be made available for each COVID-19 vaccination administered to eligible people between 11 September and 31 October 2023.

Where people had already booked an appointment for their flu vaccination earlier in September with their local provider, these appointments can go ahead. If vaccine supply has been ordered for covid and flu, sites can start vaccinating against both.

Wherever possible, vaccinations for flu and COVID-19 should still be offered at the same time, making it easier and more convenient for people to get vital protection from both viruses ahead of winter.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS England Medical Director, said: “Vaccinations are our best defence against flu and COVID-19 ahead of what could be a very challenging winter, and with the potential for this new covid variant to increase the risk of infection, we are following the latest expert guidance and bringing the covid vaccination programme forward, with people able to get their flu vaccine at the same time to maximise protection.

“The NHS will work quickly to offer people protection against these nasty viruses as soon as possible, first going into adult care homes and inviting those most at risk including those with weakened immune systems.

“So please come forward to get your protection against both covid and flu as soon as possible once invited – it will help protect you and those around you this winter.”

Steve Russell, NHS England Chief Delivery Officer and National Director for Vaccinations said: “Every year NHS staff pull out all the stops to ensure those at greatest risk are vaccinated and protected against winter viruses.

“While we know that flu and covid usually hit hardest in December and January, the new covid variant presents a greater risk now, which is why we will be ensuring as many people as possible are vaccinated against covid sooner – and to support the fast-tracked delivery, vaccine providers will be given additional payments for delivering covid vaccines before the end of October. It’s vital you come forward when it’s your turn.”

Chief Executive of the UK Health Security Agency, Dame Jenny Harries said: “As we continue to live with COVID-19 we expect to see new variants emerge.

“Thanks to the success of our vaccine programme, we have built strong, broad immune defences against new variants throughout the population. However, some people remain more vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19. This precautionary measure to bring forward the autumn programme will ensure these people have protection against any potential wave this winter.

“There is limited information available at present on BA.2.86 so the potential impact of this particular variant is difficult to estimate. As with all emergent and circulating COVID-19 variants – both in the UK and internationally – we will continue to monitor BA.2.86 and to advise government and the public as we learn more. In the meantime, please come forward for the vaccine when you are called.”

Last year, the NHS carried out its second biggest ever flu vaccination campaign, with more than 21 million flu vaccinations given to adults and children, while more than 17 million COVID-19 jabs were delivered last winter. As part of this, 10 million flu vaccinations and 8 million covid-19 vaccinations were in the month of October, making it by far the most popular month.

In total, more than 149 million covid-19 vaccinations have now been given by healthcare staff and volunteers since the NHS delivered the world’s first COVID-19  jab outside of clinical trials to Maggie Keenan, in December 2020.

But it is important that those eligible this year come forward for their vaccinations as protection fades over time, and the virus that causes flu can change from year to year.

As in previous years, the NHS will let people know when bookings open. Adult flu and COVID-19 appointments will be available through the NHS App and website, or by calling 119 for those who can’t get online. Flu vaccines will also be available through local GP practices and pharmacies.

There will be no change to flu vaccinations for children which will be offered in schools from early next month, to prevent children from getting seriously ill from flu and ending up hospital, and to break the chain of transmission of the virus to the wider population.

The nasal flu vaccine is the most effective vaccine for children aged 2-17 years but if this is not suitable the GP or practice nurse may be able to offer a flu vaccine injection as an alternative.

Health and social care workers will be invited for their vaccines through their employer.

In line with advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, those eligible for a flu vaccine this year include:

  • those aged 65 years and over
  • those aged 6 months to under 65 years in clinical risk groups (as defined by the Green Book, chapter 19 (Influenza))
  • pregnant women
  • all children aged 2 or 3 years on 31 August 2023
  • school-aged children (from Reception to Year 11)
  • those in long-stay residential care homes
  • carers in receipt of carer’s 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 working for a registered residential care or nursing home, registered domiciliary care providers, voluntary managed hospice providers and those that are employed by those who receive direct payments (personal budgets) or Personal Health budgets, such as Personal Assistants

Those eligible for an autumn covid vaccine are:

  • residents in a care home for older adults
  • all adults aged 65 years and over
  • persons aged 6 months to 64 years in a clinical risk group, as laid out in the Immunisation Green Book, COVID-19 chapter (Green Book)
  • frontline health and social care workers
  • persons aged 12 to 64 years who are household contacts (as defined in the Green Book) of people with immunosuppression
  • persons aged 16 to 64 years who are carers (as defined in the Green Book) and staff working in care homes for older adults.

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