Millions of people are being urged to get a flu jab by Friday to maximise protection over Christmas, as new figures reveal that more than half of those who are pregnant or have an underlying health condition have yet to be vaccinated.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is encouraging eligible people to have the vaccine by 10 December to allow it take full effect before the festive season. The agency encourages pregnant women and people with underlying medical conditions to get the vaccine. However, it also calls on people of black Caribbean or African descent to apply for the vaccine. Data suggests that they have the lowest vaccination rates.
While 79% of those aged 65 and over have already come forward for their flu jab, exceeding the World Health Organization target of 75%, less than half of those who are pregnant or have underlying conditions have taken up the offer. Uptake among those under 65 in clinical risk groups is just 41.4% in England, while in pregnant women, only slightly more than one in three – 34.4% – have been vaccinated so far.
Flu can be a serious infection and can cause severe complications for people with long-term conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, respiratory problems, chronic neurological diseases, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and kidney disease.
Compared with healthy adults, people with underlying health conditions are on average 11 times more likely to die if they catch flu, the UKHSA said. The agency stated that pregnant women are at greater risk for serious complications and should get the flu vaccine to protect their baby and themselves.
“Getting your winter vaccines, whether that is your flu jab if eligible or your [Covid] booster jab, is one of the most important things people can do for yourself and your family this winter,” said Sajid Javid, the health secretary. “Don’t delay – book your flu vaccine as soon as possible.”
While levels of flu infection are still low, this can typically “ramp up” over December, with a peak in January, the UKHSA said. All eligible adults can get their NHS flu vaccine at their local GP or pharmacy.
In England, more than 35 million people are eligible for a free flu vaccine this winter. To help prevent flu spread to more vulnerable individuals, the vaccine is available to all people, including those over the age of 65, pregnant women, and people with underlying medical conditions. This includes children aged two and three on 31 August; and schoolchildren up to year 11.
Dr Conall Wilson, an epidemiologist consultant at the UKHSA said that “the threat of flu continues to exist.” Flu can lead to serious illness and even death. Flu vaccination saves lives. If you are eligible, you don’t have to wait to be called up – book your flu vaccine as soon as possible to help protect yourself and family this Christmas.”
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