Flu vaccine uptake among over 65s highest on record

Published on: Thursday, 14th January 2021
Public Health England

Over 80% of those aged 65 and over in England have received the flu vaccine so far this year – the highest uptake ever achieved. In the East Midlands, over 768,000 GP registered patients had their flu jab, an increase of almost 60,000 from the previous year. Last year saw more people having their flu jab over a 3-month period than they did in 6 months during the last flu season pre-pandemic.

NHS England and NHS Improvement, Public Health England (PHE) and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care are thanking NHS staff for their incredible work in achieving some of the highest ever vaccination rates for flu.

Despite the complexities of rolling out the largest national NHS flu immunisation programme during a COVID-19 winter, NHS staff have vaccinated a record 80.3% of those aged 65 years and over in England against flu so far this year. 

In the East Midlands, 78% of eligible patients in the same age category received the jab, an increase of almost 5% compared to the previous year.

In England, this is the highest uptake ever achieved for this group and is just under 10% higher than this time last year, exceeding the World Health Organization uptake ambition of 75%.

Uptake in 2 and 3-year-old children is also the highest ever recorded, at 54.0% and 56.5% respectively. In the East Midlands, the uptake rates were 52.8% in 2- and 3-year olds compared to 48.2% uptake the year before.

Nationally, flu vaccine uptake rates are higher than the same time last season for all other eligible groups.  This includes an uptake rate of 51.5% in clinical at-risk groups (aged under 65 years), which is the highest achieved in the last seven seasons.

These figures reflect the hard work of the wide range of NHS and public health professionals involved in planning and delivering our national immunisation programme.

Dr Vanessa MacGregor, Consultant in Communicable Disease Control, Public Health England Midlands said: “A record number of over 65s have received their flu jab in the East Midlands. This data not only shows that people are becoming more aware of just how important the flu jab is, but that the hard work of our healthcare staff is paying off. 

“Having flu and COVID-19 at the same time increases your chance of mortality considerably which is why being vaccinated, now more than ever, is so important.”

Dr Nigel Sturrock, Regional Medical Director at NHS England and NHS Improvement (Midlands), said: “The NHS has been doing an incredible job in vaccinating people for flu in very challenging circumstances. We have seen staff in GP practices, community pharmacies, schools and trusts going above and beyond to make sure that people get their flu vaccination this winter, and I thank them for all their hard work.

“The flu vaccine is a lifesaver because flu is a highly contagious disease which for some people can lead to serious and sometimes life-threatening consequences. If you are eligible for a free flu vaccine and you haven’t had your flu vaccination yet, it’s not too late - please speak to your GP or local pharmacy as soon as possible.”

On 1 December 2020, all 50 to 64-year olds became eligible for the flu vaccine and 26.1% of those in this age group (but not in a clinical risk group) have taken up the offer so far.

The NHS in England achieves some of the highest flu vaccine uptake rates in Europe for healthcare workers, with an uptake of 74.3% by the end of the season in 2019 to 2020. By the end of November 2020, 70.5% of frontline healthcare workers had already been vaccinated, compared to 61.5% at the same period last year.

This means more than 120,000 additional healthcare workers had been vaccinated than the same time last year.

It is estimated that over 2,521,000 children were vaccinated through the school-aged programme between 1 September and 30 November 2020 (47.5%), which is 480,000 more children than at the same time last season.  Monthly data showed that uptake was between 2.9 and 5.9% higher for all year groups compared to the same time last season.

The flu vaccine is safe and the best defence against flu, and one of the most effective ways to reduce pressure on the health and social care system each winter.

With COVID-19 also circulating this flu season, it remains important that those in eligible groups take up the offer of a free flu vaccine.  This will also relieve pressure on the NHS and social care system when they are dealing with high numbers of COVID-19.

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