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UK plans biggest flu programme with free vaccines for millions

PTI London | Updated on July 17, 2021

Britain's Health Secretary Sajid Javid   -  REUTERS

Alongside this flu drive, the UK government is preparing for a booster programme of Covid-19 vaccines

UK’s Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid on Saturday announced that millions of more people will be offered a free flu vaccine this year as part of the British government’s “most comprehensive” flu vaccination programme in history to help back up the coronavirus fight.

From September, the National Health Service (NHS) will offer the flu vaccine to over 35 million people in the UK during the upcoming winter season, including all secondary school students for the first time.

This takes last year’s expanded flu programme further and will back up any Covid-19 booster jab process.

“Flu can be a serious illness and we want to build a wall of protection by immunising a record number of people,” said Javid.

“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.

“The phenomenal scale of the Covid-19 vaccination programme is a clear demonstration of the positive impact vaccination can make and I encourage all those eligible to get their flu jab when called forward,” he said.

According to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), four in five (80.9 per cent) people aged 65 and over in England received their flu vaccine in 2020 – exceeding the World Health Organisation (WHO) uptake ambition of 75 per cent.

Working with the NHS, the department said it is preparing to deliver the expanded flu programme alongside any booster programme for Covid-19 vaccines as part of wider autumn and winter planning, which centres around protecting as many lives as possible.

During the 2021/22 season, which starts in September, the flu jab will be available to all children aged two and three on August 31; all children in primary school and all children in school aged between 10 and 15 in secondary school; those aged six months to under 50 years in clinical health risk groups; pregnant women; those aged 50 years and over; unpaid carers; close contacts of immunocompromised individuals with health conditions; and frontline health and adult social care staff.

“NHS staff across England vaccinated record numbers of people against flu last year – a potentially fatal illness – and they continue to pull out all the stops to deliver the biggest and most successful NHS Covid-19 vaccination programme in health history, protecting their patients and communities,” said Dr Nikita Kanani, NHS medical director for primary care.

“Getting your free flu vaccine if you are eligible as well as keeping up good habits like regularly washing your hands could help save your life, so please do come forward when you are invited to give you and your loved ones vital protection this winter,” she said.

Alongside this flu drive, the government is preparing for a booster programme of Covid-19 vaccines and the Joint Committee on Vaccination (JCVI) and Immunisation has published interim advice on who would be prioritised for a possible third vaccine from September 2021.

The booster programme, which would be designed to ensure millions of people most vulnerable to Covid-19 continue to have the protection they need ahead of the winter and against new variants, will be informed by the JCVI’s final advice expected in the coming weeks, based on the pandemic data.

Dr Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director at Public Health England, added: “The flu vaccine is safe, effective and protects millions of people each year from what can be a devastating illness”.

“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. Combined with the likelihood that Covid-19 will still be circulating, this makes the coming flu season highly unpredictable.

“We will be preparing for a challenging winter by expanding our world-leading flu vaccination programme to over 35 million people, saving more lives and limiting the impact on the NHS and social care,” Doyle said.

The DHSC said as a result of non-pharmaceutical interventions in place for Covid-19, such as mask-wearing, physical and social distancing, and restricted international travel, flu levels were lower than expected across the world in 2020/21.

It is possible there will be higher levels of flu this winter, with more of the population susceptible given the low levels last season.

UK health minister Sajid Javid tests positive for Covid-19

UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid on Saturday said he has tested positive for Covid-19 and is self-isolating at home with mild symptoms.

In a tweet, the senior Cabinet minister wrote: "This morning I tested positive for Covid. I'm waiting for my PCR result, but thankfully I have had my jabs and symptoms are mild.

"Please make sure you come forward for your vaccine if you haven't already." On Tuesday, Javid, 51, was visiting a care home in Streatham, south London, and earlier that day he was in Parliament.

He got the positive test from a lateral flow test that he took after feeling "a bit groggy" on Friday night and says he is now self-isolating at home with his family.

"I was feeling a bit groggy last night, so I took a lateral flow test this morning and it's come out positive, so I'm now self-isolating at home with my family until I get the results of a PCR test," the Pakistani-origin minister said in a video posted to his Twitter account.

"I'm grateful that I've had two jabs of the vaccine and so far, my symptoms are very mild," he said.

Javid, a former UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, started his new role in the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) last month, replacing Matt Hancock who resigned after a leaked CCTV footage showed him kissing an aide and former lobbyist Gina Coladangelo in his ministerial office.

From Monday, lockdown rules will end in England, with suggested guidance replacing legal norms on face masks and social gatherings.

Meanwhile, the latest daily total of coronavirus cases in the UK stands at 51,870 – the highest figure since 15 January – and 49 deaths.

Some experts have called for some legal restrictions, including on face masks, to be kept in place while the infection rate remains high.

Published on July 17, 2021

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