1.Influenza is a highly infectious acute viral infection of the respiratory tract. It is often self-limiting in healthy people but there are some groups who are at higher risk from serious illness. Flu vaccination is offered annually in the UK to eligible ‘higher risk’ groups, such as those with pre-existing serious medical conditions, through the annual flu vaccination programmes in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Flu infection rates peak in winter months, and vaccination aims to offer protection against the effects of flu to as many eligible groups as possible, as soon as possible, during the ‘winter flu season’. The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that vaccination is the most effective way to prevent the disease, although immunity wanes over time and annual vaccination is recommended. Vaccination provides protection both to the individual and the wider community.
2.An annual flu vaccination programme was first introduced in England in the late 1960s—vaccination was offered to those in certain clinical risk groups who were at a higher risk of severe illness. It was extended to all individuals over 65 in 2000 and has since been further extended to other clinical groups. Currently, eligible groups for the flu vaccination include: the over 65s; people with pre-existing serious medical conditions such as diabetes; pregnant women; and those in care homes or other long-stay care facilities. In England a school-based flu vaccination programme also provides vaccinations for children in reception and school years 1–4. NHS hospital trusts, social care providers and others such as dental practices and GP surgeries have an occupational health responsibility to offer flu vaccination to all frontline staff, but this is not part of the NHS flu vaccination programme. Similar vaccination programmes are in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
3.Each country in the UK is responsible for its own vaccination programme. However, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation advises all UK health departments. Public Health England collates surveillance data on flu across the UK through its Influenza Surveillance team in collaboration with the devolved nations’ public health bodies (who produce reports for their countries).
4.In England, there are a number of bodies involved in the provision and coordination of the national flu vaccination programme:
5.The Government produces an annual Flu Plan which includes other policies aimed at tackling the winter flu season beyond the flu vaccination programme. These include managing and coordinating responses to local outbreaks of flu, public communication campaigns, and overseeing and advising on the use of antivirals.
6.As a result of the high disease burden of flu in 2017/18 (see chapter 2) and discussions on variable uptake of vaccination we held a one-off oral evidence session on the flu vaccination programme in March 2018. We took oral evidence from a number of witnesses:
7.Our Report sets out our findings relating to
1 Public Health England, , accessed 16 October 2018; Health Protection Scotland, accessed 16 October 2018; Public Health Wales, ‘ accessed 16 October 2018; and Public Health Agency, accessed 16 October 2018
3 Public Health England , 15 August 2018
4 Department of Health and Social Care, , March 2017
5 Department of Health and Social Care, , March 2017
6 Health Protection Scotland, accessed 16 October 2018
Public Health Wales, ‘ accessed 16 October 2018
Public Health Agency, accessed 16 October 2018
7 Public Health England, , May 2018
8 Public Health England, , accessed 16 October 2018
Published: 18 October 2018