Complacency over the flu jab dangers overwhelming the NHS, specialists warn, as knowledge reveals the size of the problem in increasing the vaccination programme.
Final month, the federal government announced plans to double the quantity of people that obtain the influenza jab.
However BBC evaluation has discovered the take-up price amongst these individuals in weak teams eligible for a free jab has declined lately.
Teachers say extra must be accomplished to clarify the severity of the flu.
The federal government needs to extend the variety of individuals vaccinated from 15 million to 30 million amid fears coronavirus instances will rise once more within the autumn.
Native authorities in England noticed a median 45% of individuals with critical well being situations underneath 65 take up the supply of a free vaccine final winter, knowledge reveals. That represents a drop from 50% in 2015.
The UK authorities has an ambition to vaccinate 55% of individuals in weak teams, which incorporates individuals with a number of sclerosis (MS), diabetes or continual bronchial asthma. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has beforehand stated nations ought to vaccinate 75% of individuals in “weak” classes.
Public Health England says the jab – which lately has been freely obtainable to over 65s, these with lengthy working well being situations and pregnant girls, amongst others – is the best technique to cut back pressures on intensive care models.
‘The vaccine is extra very important than ever’
The prospect of a surge in flu instances over winter can be of concern to many individuals nonetheless affected by what has been dubbed “lengthy Covid”.
That’s the place coronavirus sufferers expertise signs reminiscent of excessive fatigue and breathlessness lengthy after two weeks.
Jeanne Jarvis-Gibson, a digital tradition and communications scholar on the College of Liverpool, is considered one of many lengthy Covid victims to affix a rising on-line neighborhood.
The 27-year-old, from Washington within the US, was once a eager runner – however now has to take a steroid inhaler and struggles to stroll up stairs at her college halls.
She stated: “I feel getting the flu vaccine is significant now greater than ever with the doable co-mingling of Covid and flu.
“I might give it some thought in the identical method as sporting a masks while you exit. It is about mutual respect for individuals.
“It is extra than simply your individual well being – we’ve got to consider everybody in our society.”
Dr Tonia Thomas, challenge supervisor on the Vaccine Data Belief, which is a part of the College of Oxford, stated: “Individuals assume the flu isn’t that unhealthy, that’s even for people who find themselves within the threat teams.
“They’re main wholesome lives by way of day-to-day residing. I’ve spoken to sufferers who say they forgot they’re in a threat group. It’s only after they contract an an infection that they realise their physique responds in a different way to different individuals’s.”
The uptake price amongst over-65s has remained constant lately, nonetheless. Final winter, 73% took up the supply.
How will flu vaccines work this yr?
By BBC Well being Correspondent Smitha Mundasad
Well being officers are ramping up efforts to make sure everybody who wants a flu vaccine will get one this yr – with round 30 million individuals being provided them in England’s largest ever flu immunisation programme.
However how will it work? And can issues be worse this yr?
Flu, which could be lethal or want hospital therapy, poses extra threats throughout this yr – as an enormous flu season mixed with a contemporary surge of coronavirus instances might overwhelm hospitals.
Between September 2019 and February this yr, virtually 8,000 individuals died from flu in England alone.
However the quantity has various. In 2017 and 2018, greater than 22,000 individuals died from the virus.
In the course of the 2019-20 flu season, 3.16 million individuals underneath the age of 65 with a critical well being situation had been vaccinated, 130,000 greater than there have been 5 years earlier than.
However making an allowance for elements reminiscent of inhabitants progress, the proportion of weak individuals receiving the jab has fallen.
Figures from the final winter flu season present native authorities in England averaged simply 45%. In Scotland it was 43%, Northern Eire 52% and Wales 44%.
London and the east of England are affected by notably low uptake charges amongst weak sufferers and in colleges.
Vaccine uptake throughout England
(%) Amongst underneath 65s in medical threat class
Solely 29% of individuals underneath the age of 65 with a critical well being situation took up the jab in Hammersmith and Fulham final winter.
Whereas the federal government is aiming for a “common” uptake of the flu vaccine amongst well being staff, it has additionally remained traditionally low in some components of the NHS and, particularly, psychological well being care suppliers.
At West London NHS Belief, which takes care of psychological well being sufferers in Hammersmith and Ealing, some 1,471 of its 2,880 frontline employees took the jab final winter.
“Our present place stays unacceptably low,” stated Stephanie Bridger, director of nursing and affected person expertise.
“This yr – within the context of Covid-19 – we’re redoubling our efforts to advertise the vital significance of getting the flu vaccination as early as doable.”
Prof Heidi Larson, of the London Faculty of Hygiene and Tropical Medication, is a world-leading skilled on attitudes in direction of immunisation and a director of the Worldwide Vaccine Confidence Challenge.
Whereas many concern the jab or nasal spray could cause sickness, she believes most underestimate the severity of flu.
“I discover there’s virtually a complacency across the vaccine within the UK,” she stated.
“It does not have the identical aggressive ‘anti’ sentiment we see towards among the childhood vaccines.”
Early surveys carried out by the Vaccine Confidence Challenge present that, in Europe, there’s rising assist for the flu vaccine as persons are involved a few second Covid-19 wave.
Nonetheless, Prof Larson stated many don’t take the vaccine for reputable causes, notably because the nasal spray given to kids incorporates porcine gelatine.
It isn’t appropriate for vegetarians and, final yr, the Muslim Council of Britain stated it was not permitted in Islam besides underneath distinctive well being circumstances.
“There are additionally those who say it does not work sufficient, it isn’t efficient sufficient,” Prof Larson added.
“Some years it actually is not that efficient towards all strains.
“However I would definitely urge individuals to take it anyway as you would not need the strains that it does defend towards.
“It is also so necessary to restrict the stress on the system.
“Two or three years in the past the Pink Cross needed to are available to deal with a nasty flu season by itself.”
Earlier authorities flu campaigns have additionally failed to handle the “fable” that the vaccine could cause sickness, in keeping with main virologist Prof Wendy Barclay, head of the division of infectious ailments at Imperial School London.
She believes this places many mother and father off permitting their kids to take the nasal spray.
Within the capital, solely 50% of eligible schoolchildren had the free vaccine final winter.
Prof Barclay stated: “My situation with Public Well being England is that if they do not make the message sturdy sufficient – so mother and father assume: ‘It is solely the flu, my children will likely be nice’.”
In the meantime, there will likely be a renewed push to influence well being and care staff to have the vaccine. Final yr, 74% of staff had been immunised.
Paulette Hamilton, from the Native Authorities Affiliation, stated: “It’s completely vital that each one our well being and care staff get themselves vaccinated, to guard each themselves and the individuals they appear after, together with our aged and most weak, from a probably devastating second wave of infections.”
A spokeswoman for the Division for Well being and Social Care stated the UK had among the finest flu vaccine uptake charges throughout Europe.
She stated: “Flu vaccine uptake charges in Europe and the flu vaccination programme will likely be supported with a significant new public going through advertising and marketing marketing campaign to encourage take up amongst eligible teams for the free flu vaccine.
“With Covid-19 nonetheless more likely to be circulating throughout flu season, it’s extra necessary than ever to have the flu vaccination and we urge anybody who’s eligible to take up the supply of vaccination to assist relieve strain on the NHS and save lives.”
Extra reporting by Anna Khoo and Daniel Wainwright.