GPs get blame for backlog at A&E
The Government is being urged to step up efforts to increase flu vaccine uptake in younger patients after researchers found 'impressive' benefits in at-risk groups.
Giving the vaccine to patients under 65 with chronic conditions can reduce deaths by 78 per cent during a flu epidemic and cut GP consultations sharply, according to the Dutch study (see right).
The UK's vaccine uptake was only 42 per cent in at-risk under-65 by the end of this winter's flu campaign. In the Netherlands uptake in at-risk groups is 60-70 per cent.
The new study analysed 75,200 patient records after a Dutch flu epidemic in 1999/ 2000. It found vaccination reduced visits to the GP by 26 per cent in at-risk patients aged 18 to 64 and 43 per cent in those under 18.
Research leader Dr Eelko Hak, postdoctoral researcher at the Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Health Care in the Netherlands, said: 'The vaccine benefits younger people substantially.'
Dr David Baxter, consultant in communicable disease control in Stockport, said a high-profile national campaign was needed and blamed low uptake figures on GP confusion over who should be vaccinated.
'We have to really work at it. Most of us struggle to get beyond 70 per cent in the elderly and that's a group that's really high risk,' he said. 'It needs to be very clear who should receive it and that should be done in a national campaign.'
RCGP immunisation spok-esperson Dr George Kassianos said there was a need for a national campaign particularly focusing on patients with asthma. 'Not only does the large number of asthma patients make it difficult to achieve high immunisation rates but patients are so much better controlled nowadays that they become complacent,' he said.
Dr Carol Joseph, consultant clinical scientist in epidemiology at the Health Protection Agency, said: 'The results are impressive. We need to get more people vaccinated. Our rates are less than 10 per cent in very young people.'
The study was published in this week's Archives of Internal Medicine.
Learning from the Dutch experience
·Guidelines recommend vaccination for all under-65s with conditions including asthma, emphysema, cardiovascular disease, diabetes or chronic renal disease
·Vaccine uptake is 60
per cent in high-risk under-18s and 70 per cent in high-risk adults aged 18-64
·In under-18s, vaccination reduced GP visits by 43 per cent
·In high-risk adults, vaccination cut deaths by 78 per cent, hospitalisations by 87 per cent and GP visits
by 26 per cent
By Emma Wilkinson