Record high flu jab rate among over-65s in Luton
A record proportion of over-65s in Luton got a flu jab over the winter, figures show.
Public Health England said uptake across the country – also a record – was likely a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the lack of a Covid-19 vaccine until December.
The Royal College of GPs praised the "incredible" efforts of healthcare workers for the achievement, but has called for answers on how the flu and Covid vaccine booster programmes will be rolled out together this year.
PHE figures show 28,852 patients aged 65 and over received a flu vaccine in Luton between September 2020 and February – 74.4% of all those registered with GPs in the area.
This was up from 66.1% the year before, and the highest proportion since records began in 2013-14.
It was also in line with the 75% target recommended by the World Health Organisation.
Across England, uptake among patients aged 65 and over soared to a record 80.9% this winter, up from 72.4% in 2019-20.
The Nuffield Trust said the NHS will want to build on this momentum ahead of what could be a hard winter.
Dr Sarah Scobie, deputy director of research at the think tank, said: “Outbreaks of flu can put significant pressure on hospitals and emergency services, particularly over the winter months.
"This winter will be even more difficult with staff working through a significant backlog of care while remaining alert to any flare-up of hospitalisations due to Covid-19.
"Given any flu outbreak would likely be very challenging, having those at most risk of serious cases of flu and Covid-19 vaccinated against both is critical.”
PHE figures also show that 44.4% of clinically “at risk” people in Luton had a flu jab between September and February – well below the target of at least 55%.
The group includes those aged between six months and 64 years old with serious diseases, the severely obese and people with learning disabilities who are at greater risk of developing serious complications if they catch flu.
The Royal College of GPs also hailed the "incredible" job of GP teams last winter.
Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the organisation, said: “The flu vaccine is the best protection we have against flu, which can be a serious and sometimes fatal illness for people in vulnerable groups.
"Achieving a high take up was especially important given the existing pressures on the NHS due to the pandemic, and was made possible by meticulous planning by general practice teams, including a lot of work to increase uptake rates amongst patients."
But he said urgent questions need answered regarding how the flu vaccine programme will work alongside a Covid-19 booster jab, and who would be eligible.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “The Government is getting ready for the upcoming flu season to ensure the health service can provide as many vaccines to people as possible.
“Alongside this, we are continuing to plan for a Covid-19 booster programme later in the year and further details of the winter flu vaccination programme will be set out in due course.”