GPs have been told to use a pricier but more effective flu jab to prevent a repeat of this winter’s epidemic.
The outbreak – the worst in seven years – was exacerbated as doctors had been strongly encouraged by health trusts to give patients a cheaper vaccine.
This prevented three main strains of flu, despite the availability of a jab that offered protection against four but which was 50 per cent more expensive.
The fourth strain became one of the most widespread this winter, which has affected millions.
GPs have been told to use a pricier but more effective flu jab to prevent a repeat of this winter’s epidemic
It comes amid reports of crisis conditions at NHS hospitals, with the number of confirmed deaths recorded in January from all causes so far reaching 55,964 – almost 13 per cent above average.
According to the Office for National Statistics the majority of deaths were among the elderly, although it will be months before it is confirmed how many succumbed to flu.
Now NHS England and Public Health England have told doctors and pharmacists to ensure that they use the four-strain vaccine to ensure patients get ‘gold standard protection’ next winter.
The four-strain ‘quadrivalent’ vaccine costs £8 per dose compared to £5.25 for the three-strain ‘trivalent’ jab.
The outbreak has been blamed for putting a huge strain on the NHS since the autumn, with experts suggesting the more effective jabs could have prevented hundreds of hospital admissions.
Health officials have now said those aged 18-64 and at risk should routinely get the four-strain jab next winter, which protects against two strains of influenza A and two strains of influenza B.
The four-strain ‘quadrivalent’ vaccine costs £8 per dose compared to £5.25 for the three-strain ‘trivalent’ jab
It comes after they admitted the current flu jab is ineffective for over-75s and ordered GPs to switch to a new version called Fluad.
Children aged two to eight will continue to be offered a special nasal spray which protects against four strains of flu.
Last night Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘We’re pleased that we now have definitive guidance from NHS England, and we hope this will build confidence among patients and encourage greater take-up, particularly for those in at-risk groups.’
NHS England said suppliers have confirmed that there will be enough influenza vaccine to meet demand.