Covid and flu vaccines will only be offered to over-65s this winter, it was claimed today.
In a bid to ‘go back to normal’, invites won’t be dished out to millions aged 50-64 who were eligible during the pandemic.
Health chiefs are also gearing up for the immunisation drive to begin in October, a full month later than usual.
It is hoped delaying the start of the roll-out will protect people most in December and January, when both viruses are expected to peak.
Scientists fear both viruses could cause carnage in an already-struggling NHS this winter.
UKHSA analysts estimate Covid positivity rates increased to 5.4 per cent with 17 outbreaks confirmed, on the previous week, which itself saw a rise of 3.7 per cent. Leading experts fear the outbreak will continue to pick up pace in the coming weeks as part of the virus’s natural cycle
The UK Health Security Agency confirmed that over-65s will be eligible for the vaccine from September 1
It comes as Covid cases and hospitalisations are on the rise across Britain, with a new variant taking off.
However, experts say Eris, or EG.5.1, shows no sign of being more dangerous than the other strains circulating, including its ancestor Omicron.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which guides ministers on jab rollouts, is expected to publish advice today setting out who should be eligible.
The Government then sets official advice based on the recommendations from the group of experts, which is based on the latest evidence and cost effectiveness.
As well as the over-65s, younger people in a clinical risk group, NHS staff and social care workers are expected to still be eligible for flu jabs.
Children aged two to 17 are set to be offered flu nasal sprays.
The Telegraph reports that the same adults will be eligible for a Covid booster, along with some vulnerable children.
Eligible Brits are expected to be offered both their Covid booster and flu jab at the same appointment, with an injection in each arm where possible, as was done in previous years.
Ineligible people won’t be able to buy coronavirus jabs privately, unlike for flu.
A source close to the jab drive tole The Telegraph that the decision to scale back the flu rollout was an attempt to ‘go back to normal’ after the pandemic.
But when the flu jab plans were first unveiled in May, the JCVI said it was bound by the Government’s requirement for it to consider the health benefits of jabbing those aged 50 to 64 ‘on the basis of cost effectiveness’.
While there would be a ‘clear health benefit’ in vaccinating low risk adults this year, it is unclear whether doing so would meet ‘strict cost-effectiveness requirements’, it said.
An NHS spokesperson said: ‘The NHS flu vaccination programme will begin in October based on the latest clinical evidence.
‘It will maximise protection for patients right across the winter months when it is typically colder, and viruses are more likely to spread with people spending more time indoors.
‘The NHS is working to ensure a growing number of vaccine sites across England offer both flu and Covid vaccines in the same visit, to make it as convenient as possible for people to get life-saving protection from both viruses ahead of winter.’
Leading experts fear the outbreak will continue to pick up pace in the coming weeks as part of the virus’s natural cycle. But officials say they are ‘closely’ monitoring the spread of the virus. The UK however is no longer publishing daily infection numbers because so few tests are being carried out after the pandemic
If officials stick by their plans, it will mean this year is the smallest flu and Covid booster rollout since the pandemic began.
Health chiefs initially decided last year to limit the flu vaccine rollout to the over-65s, despite warning that it was ‘reckless’ and would leave millions unprotected.
But it U-turned and offered the jab to all over-50s amid fears about a ‘twindemic’ of Covid and flu that could cripple the health service.
Experts in Australia — where the flu season runs from April to September and typically predicts how it will unfold in the UK — have warned of record cases.
Medics have expressed concern about the impact on children, with around half of cases in children under the age of 15. Youngsters have also accounted for around eight in 10 hospital admissions.
The country is forecast for a similar flu season as was logged in 2019 — which was the biggest on record and more than 300,000 infections were logged.
Rather than a more infectious flu strain, experts have blamed low vaccination uptake in children for leaving them more vulnerable to the virus.