Wales is set to see its largest ever flu vaccination programme this autumn, with the jab being offered to all those aged over 50 and all secondary school children.
It comes after 2020/2021 saw the largest number of flu vaccinations – over a million - ever given in Wales, and for the first time, the uptake in the over-65s exceeded 75%.
The COVID booster programme will also be co-administered to those who are eligible where appropriate to do so, in an effort to improve efficiency and increase uptake of both vaccines.
It comes amid warnings from the Chief Medical Officer in his annual flu letter that there could be a co-circulation of flu and COVID-19 this winter, as well as other respiratory infections.
Increasing the number of those eligible for the flu jab and coinciding this with the COVID booster programme will protect both the public and the NHS.
It is hoped extending the flu vaccination programme will also reduce morbidity and mortality associated with influenza, as well as reduce hospitalisations during a time when the NHS and social care may again be managing winter outbreaks of COVID-19.
As well as all those ages over 50, the schools programme will be extended to all those in secondary school in years 7-11.
It means the flu vaccination vaccine will be available on the NHS to well over 1.5m people in Wales this winter.
The Welsh Government has set an ambition of 75% of secondary school pupils to have the flu vaccination and 80% of those aged 65 and over.
An additional funding package of £6.8m will be allocated to health boards to reach both new cohorts.
The Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Frank Atherton, will be writing to NHS Wales about the National Influenza Immunisation Programme 2021-22, detailing the priority vaccination groups, the uptake ambitions, details of the vaccines available and the potential for co-administration of the COVID and flu vaccines this coming season.
This is the first time we have extended the flu vaccination programme to those in school years 7-11, as we appreciate the greater risk of flu and respiratory conditions spreading through young people during the winter period.
We are concerned about a perfect storm of both flu and COVID-19 this winter, and are doing everything to prepare as best as we can.
Health Minister Eluned Morgan said:
It is very important people take the opportunity to have their flu vaccination and we are delighted it can be rolled out with the COVID booster in some situations.
It is thanks to the incredible success of our COVID vaccination programme, where we have learnt valuable lessons and seen unprecedented levels of uptake, that we have been able to extend the flu vaccination programme to all those over 50 years old and between years 7 to 11 in the schools programme.
We expect there to be a co-circulation of both flu and COVID-19 this winter and cannot stress enough how key it is that those who are eligible take up both their flu jab and COVID booster vaccine.