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It's touch-and-go on over-65s flu target

By Cato Pedder

GPs' chances of meeting the Government's 70 per cent uptake target for flu vaccination among over-65s rest on a knife-edge, official figures suggest.

Uptake at the beginning of November stood at 56.6 per cent ­ up from 55.3 per cent at the same time last year.

Last year final uptake among over-65s in England reached 69 per cent ­ 1 per cent below target ­ and the Government is hoping the slight rise so far this season will be enough to tip the balance.

Uptake levels vary dramatically across the country.

Somerset has reported coverage among over-65s at the end of October standing at 69 per cent. But Waltham Forest, in east London, is reporting some practices struggling to hit 30 per cent uptake while others have reached 86 per cent already.

A Department of Health spokesman said: 'We are pleased to be seeing a similar level of uptake to last year's campaign but we continue to urge people who are entitled to their free flu jab ­ both the over-65s and the at-risk groups ­ to visit their GP.'

But some flu immunisation co-ordinators are warning that focusing on the over-65s has meant children in at-risk groups have been neglected. Young children are the most susceptible group to the new Fujian influenza A (H3N2) strain.

Dr Tony Ellam, influenza lead at South West London strategic health authority, which had immunised around 50 per cent of over-65s by the end of October, said: 'For many years now children in at-risk groups haven't been focused on. There has been no directive that has identified children in at-risk groups as a problem and achievement has not been as good.'

·The Government has revealed it is considering plans to stockpile antiviral drugs in case of a flu pandemic. The disclosure came in the wake of a warning, in a paper published in Science, that a global influenza pandemic is inevitable and may be imminent. The paper claimed vaccine production capacity was incapable of coping with a major outbreak.

The department said it had previously stockpiled drugs for flu, to a limited extent, and was reviewing a possible need to do this with antivirals.

Flu activity may have peaked

Flu consultation rates across the UK are continuing to fall and the Health Protection Agency says the outbreak of influenza activity appears to have levelled off.

But young children still make up the biggest proportion of those affected with influenza-like illness and the rate in this age group remains high, the agency has warned.

Last week GP consultations in England dropped slightly from 54.5 to 53.2 per 100,000; in Scotland the rate fell to 86 from 116; and in Northern Ireland from 126 to 90.9. In Wales the rate continued to rise to 12.1 but was still below baseline levels.

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