Online booking for flu jabs will be made available to people in England for the first time as part of a new NHS trial.
It comes after millions of people successfully used the National Booking Service during the Covid vaccination programme, with those unable to get online given alternative ways to book.
The NHS in England is now trialling whether flu jabs can be booked in a similar fashion as the health service encourages people to get vaccinated ahead of winter.
People at 200 sites across the country will be offered to book this way, but flu vaccinations can still be booked through GP practices or by visiting a pharmacy delivering the jabs.
Around 33 million people in England will be eligible for a flu vaccine this year, including all primary-age and some secondary-age children, who will be offered the nasal spray. Those eligible for the flu jab include:
- people aged 50 and over
- those aged six months to 49 with a specified health condition
- secondary school-aged children focusing on Years 7, 8 and 9 with any remaining vaccine offered to Years 10 and 11
- primary school-aged children
- pregnant women
- people in care homes
- frontline health and social care staff
- household contacts of people with weakened immune systems
These people can get a flu jab from their GP surgery or pharmacies offering an NHS vaccine service. GPs are also inviting children aged two and three years old (as of 31 August) for the nasal spray vaccine.
Covid boosters available to over 50s
The new booking service for flu jabs comes as the NHS is calling for all over 50s to get their Covid autumn booster. Online and phone bookings for booster jabs will open for 12 million people aged between 50 and 64 on Friday (14 October).
Some 26 million people are eligible for the Covid booster and people have been urged to get vaccinated amid a warning of a potential “twindemic” of flu and coronavirus this winter.
International surveillance shows the UK can expect the spread of H3N2 (a subtype of influenza type A), which is currently the most commonly detected flu virus worldwide. H3N2 has recently caused waves of infection in countries including Australia, which has just had its winter, but the vaccine used by the UK is designed to fight this strain.
In 2017/2018, the H3N2 flu strain led to a severe UK flu season, with around 20,000 deaths and 40,000 hospital admissions. It did circulate in the UK last winter but as there was less social mixing due to Covid it means there is little immunity to it. NHS Providers said trust leaders are now “bracing themselves” for a possible “twindemic”.
Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said: “The double threat of widely circulating flu and Covid-19 this year is a real concern, so it’s crucial that you take up the free flu vaccine as soon as possible if you are offered it. It will help protect you from severe flu this winter, and even save your life.
“All those over 50 are now eligible for the jab, many of which will have low natural immunity due to Covid-19 restrictions over the last two years.”
Steve Russell, director for vaccinations and screening, added: “Vaccinations are our strongest weapon against these viruses and NHS staff are once again doing all they can to protect the public, including through a new trial that will allow people to book their flu jab through the National Booking Service.
“If you are between 50 and 64 then please do not hesitate to log on and book yourself an appointment, it is the best way to protect yourself from serious illness this winter.”