Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “The College is supportive of measures to expand the flu vaccination programme this year as a precaution to stop the NHS, including general practice, becoming overwhelmed should there be second wave of COVID-19 this winter. The two main challenges were always going to be procuring enough supply of the vaccine, and logistics of delivering it to patients on a scale potentially twice as big as usual.
“GPs and our teams plan meticulously for the flu season every year, consistently delivering vaccination programmes on a mass scale and achieving high vaccination rates. Preparations are already underway to deliver this year’s expanded flu vaccination programme, and patients who are in at-risk groups such as such as older people, pregnant women and patients with long-term conditions and learning difficulties – who normally receive a flu jab – will already be covered by the vaccine supply that GP practices will have ordered towards the beginning of the year.
“For the extra cohort of patients included in the expanded flu programme, for example 50-64 year olds, we have asked for assurance from the Government that there is enough supply of vaccines to go around. If there isn’t, then GPs need clear guidance who, outside of those patients most at risk, should be prioritised for a flu jab – and there needs to be clear public messaging that this is the case to manage patients’ expectations.
“In terms of delivering the expanded flu vaccination programme, the college has produced guidance for GP practices on how to do so safely during the pandemic. Practices will likely be running evening and weekend flu clinics, as they usually do, to facilitate vaccinating a greater number of people, whilst adhering to safety measures such as social distancing guidelines. Where appropriate practices will also be thinking outside of the box, for example, by delivering vaccines in non-typical settings, such as large community centres, where multiple stations where multiple stations can be set up in line with social distancing measures, or ‘drive through’ clinics.
“The flu jab is the best protection we have against influenza and it is essential that as many people in at-risk groups get their vaccination when the season begins later in the year, and the current COVID-19 pandemic makes delivering this even more important than usual.
“General practice is going to need adequate resources to deliver the expanded vaccination programme, including sufficient supply of appropriate PPE. As well as greater clarity about supply and managing patients’ expectations, we also need to know how general practice is expected to work with colleagues in community pharmacy, particularly in settings such as care homes, to ensure a joined-up and seamless vaccination programme is delivered to patients.”