Similar fears last year saw flu vaccine eligibility expanded to all adults over 50 and children in Year 7.
This year the plans are even bigger, with secondary school pupils up to Year 11 included in the roll-out.
From August 31, free flu jabs will also be offered to all children aged two and three , primary school pupils, people with certain health conditions, unpaid carers, pregnant women and frontline health and adult social care staff.
In total, officials expect the jab to be offered free to more than 35 million people.
By comparison, a record 19 million seasonal flu jabs were administered in winter 2020.
The announcement comes just days after a report commissioned by the chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, suggested the health service could face a horror scenario this winter.
The report said as many as 60,000 people could die from flu this winter as Covid and seasonal viruses put the NHS at risk of being ‘unable to cope’.
Scientists believe people’s immunity to respiratory infections such as flu has fallen because social distancing reduced their spread.
But all remaining Covid restrictions will be scrapped from Monday July 19, including the requirement to wear face masks on public transport and in shops.
A rise in cases of flu and Covid could overwhelm the NHS, which is already under strain due to the backlog in routine care caused by the pandemic.
Public Health England medical director Dr Yvonne Doyle said: ‘Last winter, flu activity was extremely low, but this is no reason for complacency as it means less people have built up a defence against the virus.
‘Combined with the likelihood that Covid-19 will still be circulating, this makes the coming flu season highly unpredictable.’
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said today that the seasonal flu programme will be the biggest in the UK’s history and urged everyone eligible to take up the jab.
Mr Javid said: ‘Flu can be a serious illness and we want to build a wall of protection by immunising a record number of people.
‘With the nation getting closer to normal life, we must learn to live with Covid-19 alongside other viruses and we’re offering the free flu jab to millions more people to help keep them safe this winter.
‘The phenomenal scale of the Covid-19 vaccination programme is a clear demonstration of the positive impact vaccination can make and I encourage all those eligible to get their flu jab when called forward.’
The expanded flu programme is expected to be delivered alongside any booster programme for Covid-19 vaccines.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is expected to publish its final advice on the Covid booster jab programme later this summer.
The committee last month published interim guidance setting out the priority list for who should get a third jab if a booster programme is needed.
The first stage will see 15 million of the most vulnerable people across the UK offered a booster including over-70s, health and care workers, older care home residents, the clinically extremely vulnerable, and people who are immunocompromised.
The second stage will extend to a further 17 million people including over-50s, adults over the age of 16 who usually are offered a free NHS flu jab, those aged 16-49 in a Covid at-risk group, and people who are in regular contact with someone who is vulnerable.
In a letter to senior leaders, GPs and hospital bosses earlier this month, NHS England said health systems should prepare to deliver booster doses of Covid-19 vaccine between September 6 and December 17.
NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said people will need to be vaccinated for flu and Covid for ‘years to come’ and needed to be delivered alongside other work.
He added: ‘Rolling out a flu programme of this scale alongside a Covid booster campaign will take a huge amount of planning, collaboration and commitment, particularly from primary care.
‘It is incredibly ambitious in its scale and complexity, and while we have no doubt the NHS can meet this challenge, we do need to think about how we enable NHS staff to carry out this programme while meeting the other pressures they face.
‘We’ll be vaccinating against flu and Covid for years to come so let’s put our approach on a sustainable footing as soon as possible.’
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