BARNSLEY’S ‘biggest ever’ flu vaccination roll-out is expected to protect more than 100,000 people this winter in a bid to better protect vulnerable age groups and ease any forthcoming pressure on the NHS, health leaders in the town have announced.

The expanded flu vaccination programme is part of plans to ready the NHS for the risk of a second peak of coronavirus cases and to relieve winter pressures on Barnsley Hospital’s A and E.

Health centres across the town have already recorded surges in flu jab appointments, which leaders have praised at a time when Covid-19 remains a ‘major concern’ going into the colder months.

Barnsley Council urged people to book in for an appointment and do their bit to help relieve any forthcoming pressure on the NHS should a second wave come to fruition.

Coun Jim Andrews, cabinet spokesman for public health, told the Chronicle new priority groups have been added to this year’s roll-out for those who remain at high risk of contracting coronavirus.

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“There’s a couple of groups we really want to encourage to get their vaccination this year who may not realise they can get it for free,” he added.

“If you receive a carer’s allowance, or you’re the main carer for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if you fall ill, then you can request a free vaccine from your GP or pharmacy.

“The second group is new this year and it’s for people who live with someone who’s at high risk of coronavirus and was on the NHS shielded patient list.”

Later in the year, the jab may be given to 50 to 64-year-olds who aren’t usually eligible, but vaccinations for this age group are not available yet and more information will be available later in the autumn.

Dr Nick Balac, chair of Barnsley CCG, said the unprecedented situation will result in the scheme being the biggest flu vaccination programme ever seen locally.

“We want to encourage even more people in the at-risk groups to have their vaccine, so pregnant women, people of any age with a long-term health condition and the two and three-year-old bracket for example,” he added.

“We’ll also have new groups who will be eligible this year like those in year seven.

“If you are eligible for a free vaccine then I would urge you to get it, not just to protect yourself, but to protect your loved ones and the NHS from flu.”

Eligible groups are urged to get their free vaccine every year, however with Covid-19 still in circulation, health bosses say this year’s campaign will be vital to protect the most vulnerable and reduce the number of people needing flu treatment from the NHS.

Andrea Parkin, head of nursing, Barnsley Healthcare Federation, said: “We’ve had a great response from patients so far at GP practices - NHS staff are working incredibly hard to make sure that people can get their flu vaccines safely this year.

“We’re still in the pandemic so we’ve had to put extra things in place to keep areas clean and maintain safe distances in the surgeries. Even though it’s different to what they’re used to, patients have told us that everything has worked well.

“I know lots of GP practices and pharmacies are running extra clinics, with some at the weekend or in the evening, to make sure we can offer the vaccine to as many eligible people as we can.”

Public health director Julia Burrows warned coronavirus remains a large threat - but encouraged people to get vaccinated as flu is attributable to ‘many deaths’ in Barnsley each year.

“Having the flu jab is a safe and effective way to protect yourself and others, by stopping the spread of the virus.

“With Covid-19 still circulating, we need to be as healthy as possible. More people having the flu jab will help to keep our community safe and well this winter.”