GP leaders say they are seriously concerned about poor uptake of this year’s flu vaccine, which they warn is risking the health of thousands of people.
The Royal College of General Practitioners says 6% less flu jabs have been given by GPs compared to the same time last year, leaving surgery fridges stacked full of unused vaccines and people - particularly in vulnerable categories such as the elderly and those with long-term conditions - at risk from contracting the illness and suffering complications.
The figures show that 100 less patients per surgery have been vaccinated, as experts fear that the uncharacteristically mild weather is deterring or delaying patients from having the jab, even though cold weather is not always a factor in flu outbreaks.
Also, issues with last year’s vaccine - which didn’t match one of the circulating strains of the virus after it mutated - may be putting people off because of a perceived lack of efficacy.
“However, the overall effectiveness of the vaccine last year was reasonable and patients are much better protected by having it,” insisted Simon de Lusignan, director of the RCGP Research and Surveillance Centre and a GP in Guildford. “One of the reasons that we no longer experience the major flu outbreaks that we had during the 1960s and 1970s could be due to the flu vaccination policy so successfully delivered from general practice.”
“These figures are extremely alarming,” said RGCP chair Maureen Baker. “The drop in the number of vaccinations that we are seeing this year 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,” she warned.