Liam Halligan: Business,
PREGNANT women and children are being urged to come forward for flu jabs amid concern about low uptake.
Health officials warned that the main strain in circulation this year is more likely to infect children and young people, as they issued the plea.
It follows the failure of last year’s jabs, which fuelled the highest winter death toll for more than 40 years.
This year, new types of vaccines are being offered, but the scramble to get hold of stocks meant GPs were asked to delay offering the jabs to some patients.
Prof Paul Cosford, medical director at Public Health England (PHE), said this year’s jabs appeared to be a good match with the main strain in circulation – H1N1 – which typically infects younger people.
The figures showed that so far, takeup is significantly lower than last year among pregnant women, pensioners as well as younger adults with health conditions, such as asthma and diabetes.
During pregnancy, women and their unborn babies are at higher risk of complications from flu because of reduced immunity.
Just 40.8 per cent of pregnant women have had the jab so far this year, compared with 43.5 per cent this time last year, with almost identical trends seen among adults with health conditions.
Take-up was higher among pension- ers, at 65.4 per cent, by the week ending Nov 25. But it is still significantly down on last year, when it had reached 69.1 per cent by then.
The figures showed the only age groups seeing an increase in uptake are toddlers and schoolchildren, but just one in five schoolchildren and one in three toddlers have been vaccinated.
Children aged two and three can receive a nasal spray vaccine at GP surgeries, while jabs are offered to other young children at school.
PHE also urged healthcare staff to be vaccinated.
Ahead of winter, NHS watchdogs said hospital staff could be barred from front-line duties if they refused to have the vaccine. Yet the figures suggest staff take-up is almost as low as last year, with just 46.3 per cent having had the jab by the end of October.
Prof Cosford told The Sunday Telegraph: “Early indications suggest that the flu vaccines are well matched to the strains likely to circulate this year.
“It is even more important than ever that all those eligible take the vaccine, especially before Christmas when people will gather together.”
Last year’s jab was only effective for one in 10 pensioners, and was little better for most adults. But this year eligible adults under 65 will be offered a vaccine that protects against four key strains of flu, instead of the last version that protected against three, and pensioners will be offered a boosted jab.