Uptake of the flu vaccine has improved slightly according to latest official figures, although concerns remain about disappointing coverage among younger at-risk patients.
Public Health England (PHE) said the figures were ‘encouraging’ but GP leaders said the uptake had changed little and that the new pharmacy flu vaccination scheme – brought in to boost uptake – was making it harder for practices to carry out vaccinations.
The figures from Public Health England’s first official monthly report for the season suggest uptake has reached similar or slightly higher levels in most of the target population, when compared with last year’s figures.
The data, based on reporting by 7,059 (91%) GP practices in England, showed vaccine uptake at the end of October was:
- 32% in pregnant women (up from 30% in 2014 to 2015)
- 58% in 65+ year olds (up from 57%)
- 18% in all two-year-old children (up from 17%)
- 19% in all three-year-old children (steady on 19%)
- 15% in all four-year-old children (up from 14%)
However, they also showed only 33% of people under age 65 with a long-term health condition had been immunised compared with 35% at the same stage last year.
Previously, weekly surveillance data had suggested uptake was also down among the elderly and pregnant women, with local GP leaders raising concerns the Government was not publicising the vaccinations enough after reports last year’s vaccine was not very effective.
They also warned the NHS England’s new pharmacy scheme was causing confusion for patients and practices.
Dr Richard Pebody, head of flu surveillance at Public Health England, said it was ‘great to see so many people taking steps to protect themselves already this flu season’, but added ‘there is no room for complacency where flu is concerned and it’s important everyone in the targeted groups takes up the vaccination’.
Dr Andrew Green, chair of the GPC’s clinical and prescribing subcommittee, said it was too early to draw conclusions from the figures, but that uptake was unlikely to change much this year, despite NHS England bringing in the pharmacy scheme to boost uptake in at-risk groups.
Dr Green said: ‘It is inevitable that there will be some year-to-year variation, so we must not read too much into small changes. I did not think there was likely to be a great deal of change either way this year, as evidence from local schemes is that there is a change in the place where patients get their vaccinations but no change in the total number who do.’
He added that concerns remained about ’the negative effect that this will have on practices who will face yet another decrease in their funding’ and ’on the figures for next year when GPs will be unable to predict their [vaccine] ordering requirements and may, as a result, be forced to underestimate their requirements’.