Resistance among some religious communities to allowing their children to take a nasal spray version of the flu vaccine is one of the reasons for low uptake in Bedford borough.
The health and wellbeing board at Bedford Borough Council was told on Wednesday that uptake of the vaccine among two and three year olds is up to 12 per cent lower than last year.
Cllr Louise Jackson (Lab, Harpur) said there were “lots of things to be concerned about”, including being dependent on vaccine makers, and difficulty in booking appointments at GP surgeries.
“I called my surgery and was told I was 26 in the queue,” said Cllr Jackson, who is the lead councillor for health and wellbeing. “Many people just aren’t going to bother.
“We need to address that. I think a lot of people would have been deterred.”
She added that a member of the Labour group on the council has raised with her the lack of “non porcine” alternatives for the nasal spray.
“People might not want to vaccinate with pork gelatine. They might be in close knit families with young super-spreaders living with vulnerable older people. There is the potential, for valid religious reasons, that they could end up spreading the virus.”
The NHS website says that vaccines use pork gelatine, from the collagen of ligaments, to ensure that the substance “remains safe and effective during storage.”
It adds that: “For healthy children, there are no suitable alternatives. There are
injectable flu vaccines that do not contain pork gelatine, but these are expected to be less effective.”
“Porcine gelatine is only an issue for the children’s nasal spray; other types of vaccine are not affected,” said Cllr Jackson.
“Children in the at-risk groups can be offered an alternative.”
Cllr James Valentine (Lab, Kempston West), the lead member for education and children’s services said parents had been told by letter to get their youngsters immunised.
But they were told by GP surgeries that the vaccines weren’t available. There had been supply issues with the manufacturers. There was no second letter to let them know the vaccines had arrived.
Cllr Wendy Rider (Lib Dem, Brickhill), the lead councillor for adult services said she had received a text telling her to get her jab, but when she rang up the surgery, they did not have any.
Director of public health, Muriel Scott, said the council had written to children’s centres and health visitors in an attempt to increase the uptake from just 17 per cent among three year olds and 18.7 per cent among two year olds.
Vicky Head, the chief officer for population health intelligence at Public Health England said there is an continuing effort to persuade people to get immunised because it is still the flu season.
The committee agreed to Mayor Dave Hodgson writing a letter to the NHS to make sure that the vaccines were in place before letters were sent out.
by Local Democracy Reporter David Tooley