GP practices have been set a target for getting ‘at least 40-60%’ of preschool children aged two, three and four years vaccinated against flu under the childhood seasonal flu vaccination programme this year.
The preschool schedule – which got underway in two- and three-year-olds two years ago, and was last year extended to four-year-olds – has so far struggled to get beyond 30-40% coverage of children in these age groups.
According to the Department of Health, the programme has been hampered by a lack of awareness among parents that their children are eligible, while GP practices have faced setbacks owing to rationing of flu vaccine orders in the early stages of the flu season.
Latest figures to the end of January 2015 indicate around 32% of children aged two and 38% of those aged four had been vaccinated, while coverage had just tipped the 40% threshold at 41% in three-year-olds.
In a bid to boost uptake, Public Health England and NHS England have announced with this year’s annual flu letter that ‘there should be a 100% offer of immunisation to eligible children’ and that ‘providers and commissioners will be required, if asked, to demonstrate that such an offer has been made’.
They added that ‘as a minimum, we would expect uptake levels between 40-60% to be attained’ and that ‘uptake levels should be consistent across all localities and sectors of the population’.
The overall childhood flu immunisation programme – which will eventually cover all children aged two to 17 years – will this year be extended to cover all children aged five to seven, after pilots in schools were deemed successful.
The flu immunisation plan also advises that GPs should continue offering flu jabs to the same at-risk groups as before, although they should also consider offering it to other groups if they feel it would be beneficial.
This includes morbidly obese patients, after Government advisors ruled the flu jab should start being given routinely to this group. However these patients will not be considered for inclusion in the GP contract until the 2016/17 flu season.