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Flu campaign a ‘shambles’ as vaccination rates way down on last year



The national flu vaccination programme has got off to a poor start despite the introduction of a new pharmacy scheme aimed at boosting uptake in high-risk groups, official figures reveal, with GP leaders warning it could be a ‘shambles’.

The data show that only 22% of people under 65 years in a clinical risk group has been vaccinated against seasonal flu so far, compared with 25% this time last year.

Meanwhile only 43% of over-65s have received their flu jab according to the week 42 data – compared with nearly 45% last year.

Local GP leaders said they showed the Government has not done enough to promote the flu vaccine through publicity campaigns, following media reports that last year’s vaccine only protected around 3% of people.

Pulse reported that pharmacies have been telling patients to cancel GP appointments so they can provide jabs themselves under the Government’s national pharmacy scheme.

However, the latest figures suggest that the scheme has done little to increase uptake in high-risk groups.

The figures, from the latest weekly national flu report published by Public Health England (PHE), show:

  • 21.9% of pregnant women have been vaccinated this year, compared with 22.4% at the same stage last year;
  • only 5% of two- and three-year-olds have received their shot of the nasal flu vaccine compared with over 8% last year;
  • 4% of four-year-olds have been immunised relative to 7% as of week 42 in 2014.

NHS England announced the national pharmacy scheme in the summer, in a move it said should boost uptake in at-risk patients, by capturing ‘hard-to-reach patients who would not otherwise take up the vaccine’.

Dr Peter Scott, LMC leader in Solihull, told Pulse: ’The flu campaign this year is likely to be a shambles as for the first GPs are in direct competition for giving the injectable flu jab and some pharmacies appear to be quite indiscriminate in offering the immunisations. They are saying to patients let us give you your flu jab your doctor is too busy to do that for you this year – which is not true.

’They have on one occasion immunised a patient who had already had their jab from us – so they have had had two flu jabs.’

A PHE spokesperson told Pulse that the figures did include jabs administered by pharmacists, who are obliged to send information about vaccinations to the GP practice on the same day or next working day. 

Dr Richard Pebody, head of seasonal flu surveillance at PHE, said: ‘The provisional weekly influenza vaccine uptake data represents data from a sample of GP practices in England. The early weekly uptake figures are slightly lower than those seen in the previous year, though generally higher than the comparable period in 2013/14.’

He added: ‘The lower uptake within the child flu programme is attributable to a later launch compared to last year. We would strongly urge anyone who is eligible but hasn’t yet received their free flu vaccination to contact their GP.’

Pulse reported this month that at least three LMCs have claimed pharmacists are directing patients away from GP appointments so they can administer the vaccines themselves.

The GPC said it was looking into the issue, and that there are potentially more areas where it is happening.