Almost 2 months since the launch of the seasonal flu vaccine campaign, the first monthly uptake figures show an encouraging start, but Public Health England (PHE) is urging all at risk people not to ‘put off’ getting the vaccination until flu is circulating more widely.
Compared to the same period last year, there has been a 4.2% increase in vaccination amongst pregnant women, a 2.2% increase in over 65s, and a 1.8% increase for people under 65 at risk.
For most healthy people, flu is an unpleasant but usually self-limiting disease with recovery taking up to a week. However for older people, the very young, pregnant women and those with a health condition (particularly chronic respiratory conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease or those with a weakened immune system) are at particular risk from the more serious effects of flu.
As a result these groups are offered a flu vaccination by the NHS; it’s free, because they need it.
Each winter hundreds of thousands of people see their GP and tens of thousands are hospitalised because of flu. Last winter, PHE received reports of 904 people admitted to intensive care or high dependency units with laboratory confirmed flu and 98 deaths.
This figure doesn’t account for the many deaths where flu is not recognised or reported - estimates of the annual number of deaths attributable to flu range from 4,000 to 14,000 per year, with an average of around 8,000 per year.
Since 2013, 2- and 3-year-olds have been eligible for flu vaccination with a newly available nasal spray, and this year the spray is also being offered to 4-year-olds.
As of October 31, 17.3% of 2-year-olds have received the flu vaccine while the 3-year-olds uptake rate is currently 18.7%. Amongst 4-year-olds, who have been offered the flu vaccine for the first time in 2014 to 2015, uptake is currently 14.1%.
Dr Richard Pebody, head of seasonal flu surveillance at PHE, said:
People with certain long-term health conditions are at much greater risk of becoming seriously unwell if they catch flu and sadly, many end up in hospital. The best way people can protect themselves from flu is to take up the offer of free vaccination from their GP as soon as it becomes available.
It’s not too late to get vaccinated, and we urge anyone who is eligible but hasn’t yet received their free flu vaccination to contact their GP.
Notes to editors