GP surgeries and pharmacists are seeing a surge in the demand for flu vaccinations, and are subsequently having to limit them to the most at-risk groups.
Boots has suspended its appointment booking system for the flu jab for anyone who isn’t included in the vulnerable groups, as it faces "unprecedented demand" for vaccinations.
In a statement, Boots said, "This year, our customers have been more conscious than ever about protecting the health of themselves and their families, and protecting against flu has been front-of-mind for many of us.
"As a result, we have seen more people than ever booking early to get their flu vaccinations."
If suitable, anyone can get the flu jab, but some may have to pay to get it privately, whereas people of a certain age, those with certain medical conditions, and frontline or social care workers are offered it for free on the NHS.
The NHS explains that the flu vaccine is given to people who:
- are 65 and over (born on or before 31 March 1956)
- have certain health conditions
- are pregnant
- are in a long-stay residential care
- receive a carer's allowance, or are the main carer for an older or disabled person who may be at risk if you get sick
- live with someone who's at high risk from coronavirus (on the NHS shielded patient list)
- frontline health or social care workers
This year in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the flu vaccine will be offered for free to the over-50s for the first time, and the over-55s in Scotland.
However, this will only be after it has been given to those who normally get a free NHS jab, including the over-65s, pregnant women, and people with certain health conditions.
Short supply of the flu jab
In July, the government announced plans to double the amount of people who receive the flu jab, from 15 million to 30 million, amid fears coronavirus cases could coincide with cold and flu season.
Although NHS England has said enough stock of the winter vaccination is available, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has said other independent pharmacies have also had to slow down the rate of vaccination.
Robbie Turner, RPS Director of Pharmacy, told the BBC, "This year many more people are anticipating receiving a flu vaccination and they need assurance that sufficient stocks are available.
"We will continue to talk with government on the supply of vaccines, and how pharmacists can support those who are most at risk."
Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said that there should be guidance in place for GPs in regards to who should be prioritised for a flu vaccination outside of the most at-risk groups.
Prof Marshall said, “For the expanded programme to be effective, the government must ensure that there is an adequate supply of vaccines for everyone who wants one in the wider group of patients who are now eligible.
"The RCGP has called for assurances from government that there will be enough supplies to go around - and for guidance for GPs as to who, outside of those patients most at risk, should be prioritised for a flu jab, should supply be limited and for clear public messaging about this in order to manage patients' expectations."
How can I book my flu jab?
To book your NHS flu vaccination, you can ring your GP surgery to be booked in for an appointment.
Those who are eligible for a free flu jab may receive a letter or a phone call to remind them to book in for their flu jab.
Alternatively, you can arrange it through your local pharmacy, or some may offer walk-in appointments.