Most people won't get the flu jab until December despite a Government drive to get everyone vaccinated to protect the NHS this winter.
This year officials are organising the biggest ever flu vaccination programme for the UK, pledging to reach 30million people including everyone over the age of 50 and 11-year-olds.
The plan was to cover more of the at-risk groups so that fewer people get seriously ill with the seasonal flu, which will relieve pressure on hospitals that are in danger of facing a resurgence of Covid-19 cases this winter.
But leaked documents, seen by The Telegraph, reveal services aim to 'extend the vaccine programme in November and December to include the 50-64 year old age group'.
It is recommended to get the flu jab in the autumn before flu starts circulating, therefore millions could be at risk of catching it before they can get vaccinated.
The documents say healthy patients aged 50 to 64 may not receive the jab at all, despite Health Secretary Matt Hancock boasting that the UK had 'the biggest flu jab programme ever this autumn'.
The vaccinations 'might' be offered 'following prioritisation of other eligible groups and subject to vaccine supply'.
Last year 15million people in England were vaccinated, but this was less than half of eligible people. It suggests if everyone in these groups took up their free jab this year, there would not be enough for additional people.
Most people won't get the flu jab until December despite the Government drive to get everyone vaccinated to protect the NHS this winter, it's been revealed (stock)
Increased flu vaccinations are planned to help reduce pressure on the NHS this winter by preventing flu-sickness which can cause hospitalisation and even death.
Thousands of people end up in hospital every year because of bad cases of flu, which can progress to pneumonia and kill people who already have weak immune systems.
As well as over 65s, those aged between 50 and 64 were set to be included, and the Department of Health initially said they would 'be invited later in the season'.
It has now been revealed this could be as late as Christmas, when flu season starts.
In 2020/21, the current year, groups eligible for the NHS-funded flu vaccination programme include the same groups as last year:All over-65s; People under 65 who have serious, long-term health conditions such as diabetes, severe asthma, heart disease, kidney disease, or people undergoing cancer treatment; Pregnant women; Parents with children aged over six months with asthma or diabetes or weakened immunity due to disease or treatment; Other groups include residents in long-stay care homes and people who have lowered immunity due to HIV or are on steroid medication; NHS workers are also urged to get a free flu jab in order to protect patients.
But because of the coronavirus epidemic, the Government is expanding eligibility for the free vaccine in a bid to reduce the number of people who get infected with flu and relieve pressure on NHS hospitals.
This is set to include:All children aged two to 11 years old; Everyone over the age of 50; Close contacts of immunocompromised individuals; Health and social care staff employed by a registered residential care home.
The NHS website says 'it's more effective to get the vaccine before the start of the flu season (December to March)' because it gives the body enough time to build immunity to the virus before they catch it during the cold months.
Those aged 50-64 with underlying conditions, which put them at risk of serious illness if they catch a virus, are among those who will not get a vaccine till the end of this year.
One diabetes patients, aged 63 - just on the cusp of receiving a free NHS flu vaccine in the previous programme - fears a jab in December is too late.
She said her GP practice in North London had text her to say 'due to availability of vaccines', those in the 50-64 age group would unlikely to get a vaccine until December.
The patient, who was not named by The Telegraph, said: 'Because I have an underlying condition which makes me vulnerable to Covid and I fall in the new plus-50 age category I thought I was eligible for a flu vaccination on two grounds. I was pretty surprised to receive a text message from my practice.'
A spokesperson for the DHSC confirmed diabetics are an 'at risk' group so should be prioritised by GPs ahead of 50-64 year olds.
Dr Jonathan Leach, Honorary Secretary for the Royal College of GPs, said it was