The RCGP has described the low uptake of flu vaccinations this year as ‘extremely alarming’, after figures showed that coverage in the target groups of patients in clinical risk groups remains well behind what it was at the same stage of the flu campaign last year.
The college said 6% fewer jabs had been given – with more than 100 fewer patients per practice vaccinated than at this time last year – leaving surgery fridges ‘full’ of unused vaccine.
It issued a press statement urging patients ‘not to shun the reminders they receive from the GP surgery’.
The RCGP’s intervention comes as local leaders have warned that the flu vaccination programme risks becoming a ’shambles’, due to the poor uptake and the confusion caused by the pharmacy vaccination scheme.
Professor Simon de Lusignan, director of the RCGP Research and Surveillance Centre and a GP in Guildford, Surrey, said: ‘In my practice, we appear to be giving fewer vaccines and have now slowed the ordering of vaccines because our fridges are full.’
He added: ‘The reasons for this are unclear, but it is possible that perceptions of lower vaccine effectiveness last year may have influenced people.’
There were reports last year that last year’s vaccine was only effective in 3% of cases, although this was later revised to 34% _ which Professor de Lusignan said was a ‘reasonable’ level of effectiveness.
Of the latest figures, RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said: ’These figures are extremely alarming. We are experiencing an incredibly mild November this year but we don’t need cold weather for a flu outbreak and influenza is a horrible illness that can also an trigger a host of other health problems.
’We urge patients not to shun the reminders they receive from the GP surgery and to have their vaccination as a priority. It provides valuable protection and plays a key role in keeping vulnerable people as healthy as possible through the winter.’
She added that the lower uptake ’can only increase the risks for the frail elderly and others more susceptible to flu, as well as potentially increasing winter pressures on the NHS’.
Pulse reported last week that only 22% of people under 65 years in a clinical risk group had been vaccinated against seasonal flu, compared with 25% the same time last year, while only 43% of over-65s received their flu jab according to the week 42 data, compared with nearly 45% last year.
Meanwhile, pharmacies have been telling patients to cancel GP appointments so they can provide jabs themselves under the new Government scheme, which allows pharmacists to give flu vaccinations.
However, Public Health England has suggested that the uptake rate could be higher, due to pharmacists not recording their vaccinations.
Dr Richard Pebody, PHE’s head of seasonal flu surveillance, said: ’Vaccine uptake is slightly lower than the same period last year for several key groups. For eligible children, this is likely to be attributable to the later launch date this season compared to last year.
’Adult vaccination rates are also slightly down when compared to the 2014/15 season for the elderly and under-65 at-risk programmes, although similar for pregnant women. This flu season, for the first time, many community pharmacies are offering free NHS flu vaccinations.
’NHS England has confirmed that 400,000 vaccinations have been given to adults in risk groups through pharmacies so far this flu season and it’s likely that some of these vaccinations have yet to be entered onto patient records, which could partly be contributing to lower uptake figures in adults so far this season.’