THE SCOTTISH Government is considering making the flu vaccine available to more people this winter – as officials draw up plans to be ready for a second wave of Covid-19.

Plans are already underway to ensure health and social care services are ready to deal with any second wave of coronavirus, but Nicola Sturgeon has stressed that suppressing the initial outbreak is key to that aim.

The Scottish Government’s Covid-19 advisory group, set up to compliment the work of the UK Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) panel of experts, has discussed “winter preparedness and provisions that will need to be in place when flu season begins”.

The panel has also examined “the groups which are currently eligible for the flu vaccine and whether there may be benefit in additional groups receiving this”.

READ MORE: Coronavirus in Scotland: Virus is 'here to stay' like the flu, says top doctor

One of Scotland’s largest health boards has warned that “significant” extra funding could be needed for this winter’s flu vaccines, with an expectation that more people will come forward for immunisations.

Currently, people with a health condition, those over 65 years old, pregnant women, healthcare workers and carers are eligible for the vaccine in Scotland - along with primary school children and children with a health condition, who will be offered the vaccine from six months of age.

On Monday, England’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) that the UK’s “biggest flu vaccination programme in history” will be rolled out this winter – with officials expected more people to want a vaccination amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

NHS Lothian has warned that it will likely need more funding to deal with demand for the flu vaccine this year.

In its remobilisation plan, submitted to the Scottish Government, the health board states that officials “have begun planning for the 2021/21 flu vaccination programme”.

READ MORE: NHS Lothian needs £150m of cash from Scottish Government to deal with Covid-19

It adds: “We are anticipating a 10 per cent increase in demand for vaccination.

“The programme will have to take account of social distancing requirements which will prevent some of the previous "mass" clinic approaches and may require a new approach to venues.

“The additional resource that will be required to deliver the flu vaccination programme this year could be significant.”

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman has stressed that plans to deal with a possible upsurge of coronavirus cases in autumn or winter are "well under way".

HeraldScotland: Health Secretary Jeane FreemanHealth Secretary Jeane Freeman

Speaking at the daily media briefing, Ms Freeman stressed that NHS boards have been “advised to hold a capacity to deal with an upsurge in Covid cases” in the autumn or winter, including both beds and intensive care provision.

She said: “We’re also factoring into that the infections and the viruses that come with winter – flu and other respiratory conditions.

“We’re looking there at how we can manage all of that if we have to – as well as to slowly and safely restart other NHS services that have been paused. But of course, the point here is that it’s the balance of the two.

“We cannot assume that our NHS will not have to deal with significant increases in Covid-19 cases or in a hospital setting or in the primary and community care setting, where we have wrapped around our care homes that real clinical input so that we can be as confident as we can with our colleagues in social care that we are providing the right infection prevention and control advice."

Ms Freeman added: "That all flows out into making sure that our modelling on PPE is as accurate as it can be and that the orders are flowing in both from that and for other consumables, for medicines and overall in workforce planning.

READ MORE: Clinical leaders 'should call the shots' amid appeal to make Scotland's NHS 'more adaptive'

“While we do all that planning and it’s underway and it’s right that we do it, we will position ourself best to deal with autumn and winter the lower we can bring infection numbers down right now - so that we are as well placed as we can be to deal with what autumn and winter brings.”

Last year thousands of Scottish children faced a delay in receiving the flu vaccine after a UK-wide delay and shortage in obtaining the immunisations.

NHS National Services Scotland has already spent more than £10 million for the 2020/21 flu vaccine programme.

Scottish Conservative health spokesperson, Miles Briggs, said: “Scottish SAGE are right to be considering the expansion of groups that are eligible for the flu vaccination this winter and increasing the number of people who are vaccinated.

“With serious concerns about a second wave of Covid-19 coming back in the winter, minimising the number of people who are getting common flu will allow health boards to be better prepared for a potential second wave.”

He added: “SNP Ministers have not always got their winter preparations organised and this year it is more important than ever that we are ready for the flu season.

“I will be keeping in regular correspondence with ministers about plans to expand the groups who are eligible for a flu vaccination this winter.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said:  “The Scottish Government is considering whether to expand eligibility for the seasonal flu vaccine in 2020-2021. 

“We are working in close partnership with Public Health Scotland and NHS Scotland health boards, as well as with other governments across the UK, to determine an approach which will most effectively protect those at risk and alleviate pressure on the NHS this winter, which is especially important in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.”