The number of people being vaccinated for flu has fallen in the last five years according to research by the BBC’s Shared Data Unit.
There has been a drop of 12% in the over 65s being vaccinated and a drop of 2% in children under three being vaccinated.
Meanwhile, of the estimated 16,903 children in reception to Year 6 only 10,368 (61%) had the vaccine.
Bedford Borough Council’s own figures also show a drop in up-take in the last two years for under 65s overall, with a 45.6% take-up in 2018/19 falling to 40.5% in 2019/20.
But, the BBC’s data revealed that Bedford isn’t alone in the decline of people taking the vaccine.
Among the at-risk under 65s in England, there was just an average of a 45% take-up, this is down 6% from five years ago, where the average was 51%.
The World Health Organisations (WHO) says countries should aim for a 75% take-up of the vaccine in vulnerable categories.
However, the NHS suggests a lower target of 55% and the only local authorities to hit this target were Stockport and West Berkshire.
Defending the drop, Cllr Louise Jackson, Portfolio Holder for Health and Wellbeing, said supply issues may be to blame.
“There were national supply issues in 2019/20 which are thought to have played a significant role in the drop in uptake,” she said.
NHS England, local authority Public Health teams and the CCG are working together to plan for this year, in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
And Cllr Jackson says she is “very hopeful” take-up of the vaccine across all groups will increase, but she urges people to get the vaccine if they are in a vulnerable group.
“An increase in flu cases if combined with a second wave of coronavirus could overwhelm our NHS, and lead to unnecessary and avoidable deaths,” she says.
Baljit Kaur, pharmacy director at Smarta Healthcare agrees, “it is vital that at-risk groups receive a flu vaccination this year, especially as we are anticipating a potential second wave of COVID-19.”
School children vaccinations still not reaching targets
Nursery school children aged two and three have been vaccinated for several years in England.
Rates are generally improving, although only a quarter of authorities are meeting the 50% vaccination rate ambition set by the government.
School vaccination has been expanding – last year it was introduced to year six pupils for the first time.
However, take-up is still below the government’s target of vaccinating 65% in the majority of local authority areas in England.
In Bedford, just 50.5% of nursery age children were vaccinated, however, 61.3% of children from reception to Year 6 received the vaccination.
Just 59 of 152 authorities who responded to the survey reached 65% overall.
Emma Rubach, is head of health advice at Asthma UK. She worries that those with asthma are forgetting the risks catching flu may create.
“It’s deeply concerning that the uptake of the flu vaccine amongst people in clinically ‘at risk’ groups in the UK, including those with asthma, has fallen,” she says.
“Flu is a top trigger for people with asthma and having the flu vaccine every Autumn helps to reduce the risk of catching flu viruses, which can put them at risk of a life-threatening asthma attack.
“Unfortunately, there are lots of myths about the flu vaccine not working, causing side effects or causing flu, and our previous research shows this is preventing people from getting it.
“The reality is, asthma and flu is a potentially lethal combination and the flu vaccine is the best way to prevent someone falling ill.”
Comprehensive flu vaccination programme
In July, the government announced its plans for the “most comprehensive flu vaccination programme in UK history” in order to reduce pressure on the NHS this winter.
Launching the programme for the coming winter, the Prime Minister criticised people who refused to get themselves or loved ones vaccinated due to conspiracy theories.
“There’s all these anti-vaxxers now, isn’t there? They are nuts, they are nuts.”
The programme aims to double the number of people taking the vaccine from 15 million to 30 million.
Up until this year, the vaccine was eligible to those who were:
- 65 years old or over
- Under 65 and living with underlying medical conditions such as chronic asthma, MS and diabetes.
- Living in a long-stay residential care home or another long-stay care facility
- Receiving a carer’s allowance, or are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if you fall ill.
However the government has decided to expand those eligible to receive it in 2020-21, with vaccinations delivered in two stages.
The first stage will be a free flu vaccine for people who are on the shielded patient list and members of their household, as well as:
- All school year groups up to year 7
- All people aged over 65
- Pregnant women
- Under 65s with pre-existing conditions including at-risk under 2s
The government says that once vaccination of the most ‘at-risk’ groups is under way, a second stage will see the government working with clinicians to decide when to open the programme to invite people aged 50 to 64.
Further details of this are still to be announced, however, we have been told the NHS will contact people directly, including information about where to go to get the vaccine.
Flu “particularly bad” for pregnant women
Those in clinical risk groups include those with medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis, asthma, and those with weak immune systems.
The flu can be particularly bad for these individuals, making their existing conditions much more serious.
They are also most at risk of suffering from life-threatening forms of the COVID-19 virus.
According to WHO, influenza can also be particularly bad for pregnant women.
Pregnancy causes changes to the immune system, heart, and lungs and makes pregnant women more prone to severe illness when they have the flu.
This means pregnant women are more at risk of severe illness and even death from influenza.
Pregnant women with influenza can also face problems with their unborn babies. This can lead to premature birth and restricted growth.
“The vaccination helps stimulate the body’s immune system to make antibodies, which attack the flu virus if infected,” adds Baljit Kaur.
“It can take between 10 and 14 days for the immune system to respond fully after having the vaccination, so it is recommended to get the flu vaccine at the earliest possible opportunity.
“During influenza season, the NHS sees an influx of patients with serious flu complications.
“By ensuring the vulnerable are vaccinated, we can minimise the risks posed to them, meaning hospitals will be under less pressure with influenza patients and will have more beds and resources available to treat COVID-19 patients,” he said.