NHS bosses warn of poor seasonal flu vaccination uptake as flu clinics draw to a close

NHS North Essex is warning that poor uptake of the seasonal flu vaccine so far this winter is putting lives at risk.

The recent mild weather has meant there have not been many flu cases to date, but there are warnings that there could be a surge in cases, similar to the last winter, leaving those who should have been vaccinated at greater risk.

Each winter, between October and January, the free flu jab is offered to people in ‘at risk’ groups, which includes everyone aged 65 and over, children and adults under 65 with certain medical conditions and all pregnant women.

But, whilst the majority of older people in north Essex have now received their flu vaccine, less than half of people under 65 and only 27 per cent of pregnant women have been vaccinated.

GP surgeries are due to stop running their flu clinics so people need to move quickly to book their free jab.

Pregnant women, at any stage of pregnancy, are especially being advised to get vaccinated. This is because the flu viruses circulating this season include a strain which is of particular risk to them – they are more likely to develop complications, which can cause serious illness for the mother and harm the unborn baby.

Seasonal flu vaccination can be safely and effectively given to pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy and it also helps to protect their babies against flu during the first few months of life.

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Dr Pam Hall, public health consultant for NHS North Essex, said: “We are really concerned that this poor uptake of the vaccine could put many people’s lives at risk. For most people flu is just a nasty experience, but for some it can lead to more serious illnesses resulting in a spell in hospital and even death.

“The flu vaccine is strictly regulated to ensure it is very safe and effective. The vaccines cannot cause flu as they do not contain the live virus. Most side-effects are minor compared to the risk of catching flu and developing serious illness.”

The best way to protect against flu is to get vaccinated. In addition people should also protect themselves and others by practicing good basic hygiene. This includes frequent hand washing with soap and warm water and following the ‘Catch It, Bin It, Kill It’ rules. This means covering the nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, carefully disposing of the tissue after one use, and cleaning hands as soon as possible.

People who can get the flu jab free of charge on the NHS include:

• anyone aged 65 or over

• pregnant women (in any stage of pregnancy)

• people with a long-term condition including diabetes, asthma, liver disease, kidney disease or heart or chest problems

• people undergoing medical treatment who may have a compromised immune system

• people with a neurological condition such as multiple sclerosis (MS) or cerebral palsy

• people living in a residential or nursing home

• a main carer for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if they fall ill