The UK announced its biggest ever flu vaccination program for the coming winter as it seeks to protect the National Health Service from a possible second wave of coronavirus.

Authorities aim to vaccinate more than 30 million people, almost twice the 15.3 million inoculated in England last season, the Department for Health and Social Care said in a statement on Friday. Free vaccines -- normally available to the over-65s, young schoolchildren, pregnant women and other at-risk groups -- will also made available to all people over the age of 50.

The beefed-up program, together with an additional 3 billion pounds ($5.2 billion) of funding for hospitals recently announced by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, is designed to help hospitals weather an expected surge of coronavirus cases when temperatures drop. Typically, hospitals are under the most strain in winter as seasonal flu spreads.

“This winter more than ever, with Covid-19 still circulating, we need to help reduce all avoidable risks,” Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said in a statement. “Vaccinating more people will help reduce flu transmission and stop people becoming ill.”

Free vaccines will be available to:

  • People on the government’s list of “shielded” patients and their households
  • All school year groups up to year 7
  • People aged 50+
  • Pregnant women
  • People with pre-existing conditions
  • Frontline health and social care workers