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UK: UK flu jab rates prompt complacency warning

A syringe containing a flu vaccination.

Complacency over the flu jab risks overwhelming the NHS, experts warn, as data reveals the scale of the challenge in expanding the vaccination programme.

Last month, the government announced plans to double the amount of people who receive the influenza jab.

But BBC analysis has found the take-up rate among those people in vulnerable groups eligible for a free jab has declined in recent years.

Academics say more needs to be done to explain the severity of the flu.

The government wants to increase the number of people vaccinated from 15 million to 30 million amid fears coronavirus cases will rise again in the autumn.

Local authorities in England saw an average 45% of people with serious health conditions under 65 take up the offer of a free vaccine last winter, data shows. That represents a drop from 50% in 2015.

The UK government has an ambition to vaccinate 55% of people in vulnerable groups, which includes people with multiple sclerosis (MS), diabetes or chronic asthma. The World Health Organisation(WHO) has previously said countries should vaccinate 75% of people in “vulnerable” categories.

Public Health England says the jab – which in recent years has been freely available to over 65s, those with long running health conditions and pregnant women, among others – is the most effective way to reduce pressures on intensive care units.

Jeanne Jarvis-Gibson pictured outside her halls of residence in Liverpool.
Jeanne Jarvis-Gibson suffers from the long-term effects of Covid-19

The prospect of a surge in flu cases over winter is also of concern to many people still suffering from what has been dubbed “long Covid”.

That is where coronavirus patients experience symptoms such as extreme fatigue and breathlessness long after two weeks.

Jeanne Jarvis-Gibson, a digital culture and communications student at the University of Liverpool, is one of many long Covid sufferers to join a growing online community.

The 27-year-old, from Washington in the US, used to be a keen runner – but now has to take a steroid inhaler and struggles to walk up stairs at her university halls.

She said: “I think getting the flu vaccine is vital now more than ever with the possible co-mingling of Covid and flu.

“I would think about it in the same way as wearing a mask when you go out. It’s about mutual respect for people.

“It’s more than just your own health – we have to think about everyone in our society.”

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Dr Tonia Thomas, project manager at the Vaccine Knowledge Trust, which is part of the University of Oxford, said: “People think the flu is not that bad, that is even for people who are in the risk groups.

“They are leading healthy lives in terms of day-to-day living. I have spoken to patients who say they forgot they are in a risk group. It is only when they contract an infection that they realise their body responds differently to other people’s.”

The uptake rate among over-65s has remained consistent in recent years, however. Last winter, 73% took up the offer.

— bbc news