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Health / Health board expects to offer nearly double usual number of flu vaccines

STAFF at NHS Shetland are preparing to offer almost double the usual number of winter flu vaccines this year – with the expanded programme incorporating everyone over the age of 50, schoolchildren and school staff.

The health board said the programme, which will run alongside its continued Covid-19 vaccination programme, will see a vaccine offered to around 18,000 people compared to a normal level of around 10,000.

NHS Shetland said many people would also be eligible for a Covid-19 booster at the same time and it was “clearly a big undertaking” which means the programme may be different to previous years, but it has resolved to ensure everyone who is eligible is offered a vaccine “before we expect flu to start circulating at the end of the year”.

The health board’s consultant in public health medicine Dr Susan Laidlaw said: “Each year there are slightly different strains of seasonal (winter) flu circulating in the community – this is why a new vaccine has to be given each year.

“The vaccine helps to protect people who are more vulnerable to flu and the complications, including people over 65, those with certain medical conditions and pregnant women. This includes unpaid carers, health workers and social care workers.

“Last year there was very little flu circulating, and there is concern that there will be much more this year which could result in a lot of pressure on health and care services. The programme has therefore been expanded to include everyone aged 50-64, along with teachers and other staff in schools.

“Flu can also be very serious for children, particularly the youngest ones who have little or no immunity to the infection. Even if children are not particularly unwell with it we know that they can spread it very easily within the community.

“This is why flu immunisation is offered to all preschool and primary school-aged children, and this year all secondary school pupils have also been included for the first time. Most children and young people aged from 2 to 18 will have the nasal spray vaccine, as this works better in children than the injections.

“And the spray has the added benefit of making it as simple as possible for children to get vaccinated and be protected. Adults and children who cannot have the nasal spray will be offered an injectable vaccine.”

  • All pre-school children over the age of two years will be offered the nasal spray vaccine at their GP practice. Please call your practice to make an appointment.
  • Children aged six months to two years who are in clinical risk groups will be offered an injectable vaccine (as the nasal spray is not licensed for them) – they will be called by their GP practice.
  • Primary school children will be offered the nasal spray in school clinics after the October holidays – consent forms have been sent out as usual.
  • The programme for secondary school pupils started in September and is due to finish this week.
  • All women who are currently pregnant, or who become pregnant between now and the end of March next year, will be offered the flu vaccination by their midwife, as usual.
  • The flu vaccine can be given at any time in pregnancy.

Flu vaccination for care home residents and those aged over 80 has started.

People aged 70 and over and the extremely clinically vulnerable will be invited over the next few weeks, either to their GP practice or to the Gilbertson Park vaccination centre.

Many people in those groups will be offered their Covid-19 booster vaccine at the same appointment where possible.

Later in October people aged under 50 in clinical risk groups, unpaid carers and everyone aged 50-64 will start to be invited to clinics, mostly at the Gilbertson Park.

Dr Laidlaw said: “We anticipate this will largely be through a national self-registration ‘portal’ which will allow people to book their own appointments, but there will be other routes for booking as well.

“Again, if possible, people in these groups will be offered a flu vaccine and a Covid booster at the same time. People who are eligible for flu vaccine only will also be invited. There will be separate arrangements for both flu and Covid booster vaccination for people who live on the islands.”

Vaccination of health and social care staff with flu and Covid-19 booster vaccines started two weeks ago and will continue through October.

People are asked not to contact their GP practice or the vaccination team unless they have been specifically advised to.

Further information is available here, including links to leaflets in various languages and formats.