Latest flu vaccination figures show overall coverage has slipped back to below last year’s levels, despite public health officials’ calls to boost uptake.
The latest monthly figures – based on data collected from 98% of GP practices – showed that just 69.8% of over-65s had received their flu jab by the end of December last year, compared with 71.5% at the same stage of the 2014/15 flu season.
Coverage is even further behind for under-65s in clinical risk groups, with only 43.6% of eligible patients receiving the vaccination compared with 48.5% last year.
And only 41.4% of pregnant women – compared with 43.0% last year – had received their jab.
The figures suggest that Public Health England’s earlier claims that uptake had improved slightly this year – at least for over-65s and pregnant women – were premature.
Coverage is also lagging across all the childhood cohorts, with 34% of two-year-olds vaccinated compared with 37% last year, 36% of three-year-olds (compared with 40% in 2014/15) and 29% of four-year-olds (compared with 31% last year).
The latest results come after GP leaders warned that NHS England’s new pharmacy scheme to help capture ‘hard-to-reach’ patients was not having any impact on uptake in at-risk groups, while at the same time draining practices of much-needed income as a result of lost flu payments.
Public health leaders said it was not possible to tell why uptake had taken a dip.
Dr Richard Pebody, head of flu surveillance for Public Health England, said: ‘While it’s great to see so many people taking steps to protect against flu this season, there has been a small, apparent drop in vaccine uptake across risk groups compared to the same point last flu season.
‘At this stage it’s not possible to ascribe a dip in coverage to any single cause, but we will review carefully as part of our end season analysis. Flu vaccination remains the best way for those at highest risk of the severe effects of the virus to protect themselves and others from flu this winter.’