Northumberland prepares for winter flu season amid covid concerns

A wider number of Northumberland residents are being targeted for flu vaccinations this year, although there are concerns about a supply shortfall.

By Ben O'Connell
Friday, 11th September 2020, 11:00 am
File picture of a flu vaccine being administered in previous years.
File picture of a flu vaccine being administered in previous years.

The county’s flu plan for this winter aims to prioritise the most-at-need patient cohorts first – those shielding, care-home residents, over 65s, patients with long-term conditions, people with learning disabilities, carers, pregnant women, and black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.

And during the summer, the Government announced that as well as shielded patients and their households now being eligible for the free vaccination, it would also apply to everyone aged over 50 later in the season as part of a staggered delivery.

In terms of the numbers across Northumberland, 2019 figures reveal more than 81,000 over 65s in the county, almost 43,000 in the at-risk group aged 16 to 65, almost 75,000 50 to 64-year-olds (although there is some overlap with the at-risk group), more than 2,000 pregnant women, almost 4,000 carers, and more than 30,000 children from age two up to Year 7.

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At the Thursday, September 10, meeting of Northumberland County Council’s health and wellbeing board, Dr Paula Batsford, a member of NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group’s governing body, said: “There’s a much wider flu cohort that we have identified this year that need delivery and we are prioritising the groups that we feel are most at risk and most vulnerable first.”

Addressing the supply, she added: “We are aware that we and primary care order all our flu immunisations in advance and there was no opportunity to change the order numbers based on the new group of 50 to 65-year-olds.”

She added: “There are going to be some national stocks and we are getting information all the time about how we will be able to access those, but, at the moment, based on the numbers from all the agencies, we know that there is a shortfall for that particular age group.

“Hopefully that will be matched through the national team and how they go about prioritising that across the country.”

In order to stay on top of all of the issues, a Northumberland flu collaboration group is meeting on a weekly basis to coordinate the efforts of the various partners involved.

All 39 GP practices in the county have signed up to deliver mass vaccination, having been responsible for giving 97,000 vaccines last winter, achieving rates of 77% for the over 65s and 70% for at-risk groups.

Community nursing teams deliver care-home and housebound vaccinations, while the NHS trusts themselves are responsible for their healthcare staff.

Health-visiting teams flag up the availability for two and three-year-olds, while Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust’s immunisation team provides the service for school-age children up to Year 7.

Finally, vaccinations are also available in community pharmacies – where 12,000 were delivered in 2019-20.

Cllr Susan Dungworth asked about stocks at pharmacies being used up by the ‘worried well’.

“We would always encourage people to have flu jabs as a matter of course because it reduces it in the community, but this year we need to make sure those priority groups get it ahead of people who don’t fit into those groups,” she said. “Is there going to be a system in place?”

Dr Batsford responded: “It is a risk. At the end of the day, pharmacies are businesses and it’s an income stream.

“Certainly our independent pharmacy colleagues are very on board with making sure that we prioritise the most at-risk groups, we have less sway with the multinationals and how they approach it."

She added: “It is a risk, particularly with those stocks. The willingness is there, but there is a risk and we don’t have control over that unfortunately.”

The meeting also heard that in most years GP practices end up returning some flu vaccinations, despite efforts to call in people to have them.

“I don’t think that will be the case this year at all,” Dr Batsford said. “I think people are much more switched-on to the campaign at large and want to come forward, and those are people who would have previously been eligible.”

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