Out of 18 European Union (EU) member states who have provided data on their vaccination coverage for older age groups for the 2011-12 flu season, only one – the Netherlands – has met the target of 75% coverage, the European Commission has reported.

The UK comes close, at 74%, but the coverage reported by the remaining 16 countries ranges between 1.7% and 64.1%, says the Commission, in a new report on progress with the EU Council’s 2009 Recommendation on seasonal influenza vaccination.

For the other priority groups identified in the Recommendation – people with chronic conditions and healthcare workers – data is scarce, with reports from only five countries relating to the former group and from six for the latter, says the Commission, and this has “reinforced the perception that little or no progress is being made to improve vaccination coverage among the target population.”

The Recommendation called on EU nations to take action to improve seasonal vaccination coverage, with the aim of reaching - as early as possible and preferably by the 2014-15 winter season - a 75% coverage rate for older age groups.

It further calls for this target to be extended to people with chronic conditions and other risk groups, such as pregnant women and young children, and for improved coverage for healthcare workers.

The Commission’s latest progress report finds that almost all countries have national and/or regional vaccination policies or strategies for seasonal flu in place. 14 have estimated the costs of activities to achieve the targets, and 10 out of these 14 say that they have allocated adequate funding to implement the plans.

However, the report finds little evidence that increasing vaccination coverage for older people is a priority in many member states.  Nor do most nations monitor vaccination coverage rates for people with chronic medical conditions and, despite the opportunities for health gains here, “there is no indication that increased coverage rates in this risk group are seen as a priority at the national level,” it says.

And while the vast majority of countries recommend vaccination of all pregnant women, there is limited data on what is actually happening, for pregnant women or for young children, “suggesting a gap between the objectives and the monitoring of activities in action plans. On the basis of current scientific evidence, the vaccination of these two groups is justified and coverage should be improved,” says the report.

Finally, while most countries recommend vaccination of healthcare workers, levels are not being measured, and the limited data available indicate low coverage rates. This reinforces the perception that “little or no progress is being made to improve vaccination coverage among healthcare workers,” says the Commission.