Flu jab uptake falls in Scotland amid warnings over 'deadly' Australian strain
A WINTER flu crisis threatens to leave hospitals “high and dry” in the wake of a drop in the immunisation rate among vulnerable groups.
New figures show that the uptake of the flu vaccine has dipped in nearly all at risk groups, including the over-65s, pregnant women and individuals with underlying health conditions which make them more vulnerable to the virus.
It comes after public health experts warned that a flu epidemic in Australia was likely to hit the UK in coming months, and that it represented “the largest flu outbreak we’ve seen for some time”.
The number of GP and hospital visits for influenza has been around 50 per cent higher in Australia in 2017, compared to 2016. In one high-profile case a previously healthy teenager died after contracting the “horror strain”, known as Influenza A. Nathan Brown, 19, died from complications from influenza A after his organs began to shut down and he developed complications including pneumonia and kidney failure.
Shadow health secretary Miles Briggs said: “Given we had a mild winter last year, the Scottish Government may have to work harder to convince people of the need for a flu vaccination. We know uptake rates dropped across the board last year, especially among older people and those at-risk groups for whom flu could present serious complications.
“Our NHS is already struggling to cope with demand, and that will only intensify when the colder weather lands. We need to hear from the Scottish Government about how it intends to boost flu jab uptake, and what it plans to do to ensure hospitals across the country are not left high and dry in coming months.”
However, a spokeswoman for Health Protection Scotland said there was no cause for alarm. She said the agency was satisfied that the percentage of people taking up the flu job was still high enough to prevent a serious outbreak, and that it was still uncertain which strains of influenza would take hold in the northern hemisphere this winter. She added that the vaccine used in the UK may also be more effective against Influenza A that the type used in Australia.
Dr Jim McMenamin, Consultant Epidemiologist for HPS said: “The flu vaccine is offered to those most at risk of the complications of flu each year. I would urge all those eligible take the flu vaccine as an insurance policy against the complications of flu that cause severe health problems and deaths each season. Vaccination offers the best protection for those at high risk from seasonal influenza.”
The figures show that the rate of over 65s getting the jab is the lowest for the decade, at 73 per cent. Among at-risk under 65s, uptake has dipped 9.1 per cent over the past two years to 44.9 per cent. Less than half of pregnant women were vaccinated in 2016/17 compared to 64.9 per cent in 2010/11. However, inoculations have increased slightly among healthcare workers and primary school children.
Aileen Campbell, Minister for Public Health, said: “To encourage uptake, this year’s flu vaccination programme will once again be supported by a national marketing campaign highlighting the importance of the vaccine – particularly for vulnerable groups. This will both raise awareness and also challenge existing perceptions of the risks and consequences of flu amongst different target audiences, including pregnant women and people over the age of 65.”