The NHS has scrapped free flu jabs for millions of people aged over 50 as the organisation chose to reverse its policy to pre-pandemic conditions.
Secondary school children aged 11 to 15 who were also eligible for the free shot won’t be offered one either.
It comes after a record 35 million people – including everyone over the age of 50 – were offered the vaccines this winter, amid fears that Britain could face one of the worst flu seasons in history.
A letter published on the NHS website has confirmed that the flu vaccination programme for 2022/23 will be only offered to patient groups eligible in line with ‘pre-pandemic recommendations’.
The NHS has scrapped free flu jabs for millions of people aged over 50 as the organisation chose to reverse its policy to pre-pandemic conditions (stock photo)
This includes the over-65s, people in clinically ‘at risk’ groups, very young children and pregnant women.
The changes are expected to affect around 10 million people aged over 50 – some who had already arranged jab appointments – and four million secondary school children.
The letter added that: ‘Seasonal flu vaccination remains an important public health intervention and a key priority for 2022/23 to reduce morbidity, mortality and hospitalisation associated with flu at a time when the NHS and social care will be managing winter pressures, potentially including further outbreaks of COVID-19.’
Pharmacists warned that the guidance had caused chaos for them, many of whom had already ordered millions of vaccines, which would now need to be cancelled.
Dr Leyla Hannbeck, the chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, told The Telegraph: ‘No one has communicated to the public that the offer of flu jabs this year is going to be any different to last year.
Pharmacists warned that the guidance had caused chaos for them, many of whom had already ordered millions of vaccines, which would now need to be cancelled
‘Last year over-50s were being told they should get their jab, now the advice has changed, but no one is explaining why. It’s going to cause so much confusion.’
The guidance was given in line with advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and Department of Health and Social Care.
However, JCVI minutes from December suggest the committee was keen to see children aged 11 to 16 still offered jabs.
The minutes say it would be ‘acceptable to vaccinate 50 to 64-year olds for the 2022-23 season if funding available’, but said this group was a lower priority.
But health officials have opted to axe both groups from the rollout.
It follows formal JCVI advice in September, which backed jabs for those over the age of 65, and for younger people in at-risk groups, saying it was for health officials to consider ‘supply and affordability’ before making plans.
One source working with the rollout told The Telegraph there were concerns the decisions appeared to be financially driven.
He said: ‘Given that the next pandemic might be caused by the influenza virus it seems extremely reckless to to cut the flu vaccine programme.’
A Whitehall source said: ‘We are getting back to business as usual. It made sense to expand the flu jab offer during the pandemic when we were concerned about the twin dangers of Covid and flu, but we need to get working in the way we used to, as part of living with Covid.’
Comes following warnings from scientists including Professor Graham Medley that the UK would take longer to spot variants if free Covid tests were scrapped
The measure, which will save the taxpayer and the NHS money, comes following warnings against axing free Covid tests – which is said to cost up to £2billion a month.
Professor Graham Medley, chair of No10’s coronavirus modelling group, warned that new Covid variants will take weeks longer to detect when mass testing is scrapped on April 1.
From that point the country will rely solely on the Office for National Statistics’ weekly Covid survey to monitor community spread of the virus, with only severely vulnerable people eligible for free tests.
Professor Medley said that while the UK was alerted to Omicron by South Africa, and Delta by India, it was Britain’s mass testing programme that helped to pick up the Alpha variant in South East England and warned the world.
He is the latest Government adviser to warn against the potential dangers of scrapping mass testing, after two SAGE members – Professor John Edmunds and Professor Matt Keeling – also expressed concern.