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Half of at-risk patient groups fail to get flu vaccination

DH plan to boost flu jabs uptake for next winter

OnMedica staff

Tuesday, 07 April 2009

More than half of patients considered to be at-risk from catching flu because of existing conditions did not receive the free jab they were entitled to last winter, according to the government.

The Department of Health is now calling on clinicians to boost the uptake of flu vaccinations amongst at-risk groups of patients next winter.

NHS chief executives are also being told to support efforts in improving flu vaccine uptake amongst staff as only 16.5% of staff got the jab last winter, despite being encouraged to do so to protect themselves and their patients.

The Department has just published a letter with details of the annual influenza immunisation campaign for 2009-10.

Implementation of last year’s seasonal influenza vaccination programme was successful, says the letter, as there were no delays in the production of flu vaccine and uptake of the vaccine in those aged 65 years and over reached 74.1% - close to the World Health Organization 2010 target of 75%.

However, flu vaccine uptake in clinical risk groups under 65 such as people with diabetes, serious asthma and chronic heart disease only increased from 45.3% in 2007-08 to 47.1% in 2008-09 in England. The concern is that developing flu will exacerbate their condition.

The letter from Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Nursing Officer Dame Christine Beasley and Chief Pharmaceutical Officer Dr Keith Ridge, says: “This is still disappointingly low considering the benefit that the vaccine offers. The clinical risk groups remain the same in 2009-10, but we do want to see further increases in vaccine uptake in these groups.”

More than 96% of general practices in England provided data on vaccine uptake this year, says the letter, which gives details of the 2009-10 winter campaign, which will be launched with an advertising campaign in October.

The Department praises the “hard work and dedication of primary care teams and other colleagues in the NHS” for previous campaigns, but adds: “We also ask that you increase your efforts and strive to break through the WHO target and deliver the right to vaccination as detailed in the NHS constitution.“

The Department says there is still a “significant challenge” over the immunisation of health and social care staff, uptake of which remains very low.

Occupational health services have a responsibility to keep records of staff that have been immunised, but only 53% of acute trusts provided data for 2008-09, which was less than the 63% who did in the previous season. This data collection is mandatory.

The uptake rate amongst staff increased to 16.5% from 13% the previous season.

To boost this rate, the Department is now asking NHS chief executives to support efforts in improving vaccine uptake among their staff and encouraging health professionals to protect themselves by taking the opportunity to get the jab.

Monthly data collection will start in October 2009 (collected in November) and finish at the end of January 2010 (collected in February).

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