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Uptake of flu vaccination in at-risk patients under the age of 50 is failing to improve as quickly as in older age groups, a 15-year analysis reveals.

The Health Protection Agency study also warned that younger at-risk patients were often vaccinated later in the flu season than older patients, leaving them vulnerable to early flu outbreaks.

The UK general practice research database study found uptake in high-risk patients aged 50 to 64 improved from 22 per cent in 1989 to 48 per cent

in 2004.

But uptake in patients aged 20 to 34 only increased from 5.1 to 11.4 per cent, and in 35 to 49s from 10.4 to 19.1 per cent.

The study also found 40 per cent of high-risk patients vaccinated between 1989/90 and 1999/2000 remained unvaccinated at the start of November, leaving them unprotected in 1993/4 and 1995/6 when flu arrived early.

Study leader Dr Carol Joseph, consultant clinical scientist for the Health Protection Agency respiratory diseases department, urged GPs to target high-risk patients.

‘In the over-65s there is a definite programme with targets, and GPs are very geared up to getting patients in. High-risk patients need to be targeted in the same way.'

Dr Joseph also called on the Government to consider extending universal vaccination to 50 to 64 year-olds.

‘A lot of people in that age group don't know they are at high risk so by extending the boundary you're picking up more people who fall into those groups,' he said.

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