Flu vaccination missed for thousands of children as uptake falters

Just one in three young children in England have been protected against flu under the new childhood vaccination programme so far this winter, leading to calls for a national awareness campaign to boost uptake.

Only a third of young children have had the flu vaccine
Only a third of young children have had the flu vaccine

One million two- and three-year-olds are being offered a nasal spray flu vaccine this winter in a bid to reduce the spread and impact of flu across the whole population.

But figures from Public Health England show just 30.6% of all three-year-olds and 34.1% of all two-year-olds had received the vaccine by 24 November.

The low uptake has forced some GPs to write to parents multiple times to encourage them to get their child vaccinated.

Uptake is also low among pregnant women with just 34% protected so far, the same level as this point in 2012.

The figures also show that 67% of over 65s and 43.6% of at-risk patients under 65 have been vaccinated.

Both rates are slightly down on this stage last winter, when the DH missed self-imposed targets to vaccinate 75% of people over 65 and 70% of people with risk factors.

Despite this, Public Health England, the body responsible for the flu vaccination programme, described uptake as ‘strong’.

Dr Richard Pebody from Public Health England said: ‘It is great to see so many people taking steps to protect themselves already this flu season, but it’s important everyone in the targeted groups consider getting vaccinated. Flu has not started to circulate yet and there is still time to take up the opportunity of vaccination.’

Berkshire GP Dr George Kassianos, RCGP immunisation lead, said a national campaign was needed to alert parents to the vaccine.

‘This is a new campaign in its first year,’ he said. ‘GPs have written to parents of the two- and three-year olds but the messages we give need to be reinforced with a national media campaign if parents are to be persuaded of the need for annual flu vaccination of their children.’

He said GPs, mindful that some of the centrally ordered stocks of the Fluenz vaccine expire as soon as mid-December, have written to parents ‘more than once’ to encourage them to protect their children against flu.

The new childhood flu vaccination programme will eventually be rolled out to nine million children aged two to 16-year-olds, and will cost £100m a year.

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