The number receiving the winter flu jab has plummeted this year
The number receiving the winter flu jab has plummeted this year, Public Health England figures show, despite a three-month campaign urging high-risk groups to be protected. It follows concerns about the way the vaccine has been distributed and raised fears that the NHS could be at the mercy of a crippling winter crisis. GP Dr Ian Campbell said: “I’ve seen first hand what damage flu does to my patients – it causes serious complications and can kill.
“We can expect to get influenza perhaps only twice in our lifetime, but when it hits you, you know about it. The flu jab is safe, effective and could be a life-saver.”
NHS bosses said manufacturer Seqirus, the sole supplier of the new vaccine for over-65s, phased deliveries to cope with global demand and there is plenty to go round. More than eight million doses of the vaccine have been ordered.
But there have been concerns over deliveries and whether there was adequate supply between batches.
Public Health England figures for the last week of November show that vaccine uptake for over-65s is 65.4 per cent this year – compared with 69.1 per cent at the same point last year.
Fears were raised that the NHS could be at the mercy of a crippling winter crisis
The latest uptake for pregnant women is 40.8 per cent, falling from 43.1 per cent in 2017 while for high-risk under-65s it is 40.7 per cent, falling from 43.5 per cent.
Caroline Abrahams, of Age UK, said: “As we age our immune system becomes less resilient to flu and the consequences can be very serious indeed.
“The flu jab is free for anyone 65 and over and it’s important all older people make sure they protect themselves.
“We know delays in rolling out the vaccination programme this year was very worrying for some older people. However, it’s essential not to let it slide or get put off. Flu is often at its peak in January and February so it is still worthwhile getting the jab, even if that’s later than usual in some areas.
Last year there were nearly 46,000 excess winter deaths among those aged 65 and over
“Patients should keep in touch with their GP practice or local pharmacy so they can be booked in for their vaccination at the earliest opportunity.”
Last year, 15,000 people died of flu. Across the season, take-up in over-65s was 72.6 per cent and 48.9 per cent in at-risk under 65s.
The rate for health care workers was just 68.7 per cent.
Office for National Statistics figures showed last year there were nearly 46,000 excess winter deaths among those aged 65 and over – 92 per cent of all excess deaths and equal to 379 older people a day.
Pregnant women are also at risk
Of major concern is the continuing refusal of hundreds of thousands of frontline NHS workers to have the flu vaccine because they wrongly believe it gives them flu.
Less than half of those eligible have received the jab.
England’s chief nurse revealed that a leukaemia patient treated in isolation was given flu by an unvaccinated healthcare worker.
Professor Jane Cummings said: “I am not going to say [staff are] irresponsible because there will be many reasons why people may choose not to take a vaccine. But our expectation is it should be made as easy as possible for them and they should be given absolutely every opportunity to do that. Some people think the vaccine gives them flu, which is course it doesn’t.
“The one thing absolutely critical is that anything up to 50 per cent of staff may have the flu virus but be asymptomatic – they may not feel ill and they may not be aware they are carrying it.
“All of us who are clinicians have a duty of care to our patients. We are trying to reduce some of those myths.”
Flu contributed significantly to last year’s NHS winter crisis, clogging GP surgeries and hospitals.
Health chiefs say that this year’s vaccine could prevent at least 700 hospital deaths, more than 2,000 admissions and 30,000 GP consultations in those aged 65 and over.
Less than half of NHS frontline staff eligible have received the jab
The flu vaccine is expected to boost effectiveness by improving the body’s immune response.
The broader programme will offer all eligible adults under 65, including those with long-term health conditions like diabetes, the quadrivalent vaccine to protect against a total of four strains, including swine flu.
Public Health England medical director Professor Paul Cosford said: “Early indications suggest the flu vaccines are well matched to the strains of flu likely to circulate this year.”
He added: “It is even more important than ever that all those eligible take up the offer of the flu vaccine, especially before Christmas when many people will be gathering together, with the added risk of spreading infection that this brings.”
The bug reaches its peak next month
by HELEN STOKES- LAMPARD, Chair of the Royal College of GPs
Influenza is a dreadful disease that, in the worst cases, can kill.
It is highly contagious and its after-effects can take weeks, if not months, to recover from.
As a GP, I cannot emphasise strongly enough how important it is to have the flu jab, particularly if you are in one of the “at risk” groups.
I have my flu vaccine at the earliest possible opportunity every year, not only for my own health, but to protect the patients I see at my surgery.
Please don’t be put off by “scare” stories about the vaccine – this year it’s been about supplies not keeping up with demand. Today’s figures show, sadly, that the opposite is true.
Influenza is highly contagious and in the worsts cases, it can kill
While this year’s deliveries of the vaccine to GP surgeries were staggered over several weeks, there is no national shortage of supplies.
As flu strains differ from year to year, we found last year’s vaccine was not as effective with older people. But as a family doctor, I can reassure you that this year’s has been developed to get through to the virus more quickly and directly than ever before.
There are other practical steps. Viruses from coughs and sneezes can live on your hands and hard surfaces for up to 24 hours so when you use a tissue, bin it and wash your hands thoroughly.
Children tend not to be so good at hand washing, so perhaps try “fun” ways of encouraging them.
By having the vaccine and taking simple steps, you are doing your bit to protect yourself, your family and your colleagues from the misery of influenza.
You could also save lives.