'Vulnerable' people at risk in Sunderland as flu jab target is missed

Fears are growing over flu jab numbers in SunderlandFears are growing over flu jab numbers in Sunderland
Fears are growing over flu jab numbers in Sunderland
Fears are growing for the health of older and ‘vulnerable’ people in Sunderland because they are not getting flu vaccinations.

New figures show that flu jab rates in the borough were below target for clinically vulnerable groups and the elderly - as the Government aims to ramp up vaccinations this autumn.

Free flu immunisation is being offered to millions more people this year in a bid to ease pressure on healthcare services in case Covid-19 continues into the winter.

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But with uptake rates already below required levels across the country, public health experts say achieving the new goals will be a major challenge.

Public Health England figures show just 45% of clinically “at risk” people in the city – those with a pre-existing medical condition – had the flu vaccine between September and February – below the target of 55.0%.

The uptake for free jabs for people over 65 in was 73% – also short of the 75.0% minimum.

Nationally, average uptake rates for both groups were below recommended levels.

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The Government wants to expand the programme to include those shielding from the coronavirus and members of their household, health and social care workers and later to all those aged 50 or over.

Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said “the very real threat of a second wave” of the coronavirus makes this year’s flu programme more important than ever.

He added: “The additional number of patients and ongoing circulation of Covid-19 will be a major challenge for GPs and practices who will be delivering this year’s programme with social distancing measures in place.”

It is essential GPs have adequate supplies of PPE, access to testing, and staff to cope with the new pressures, he said.

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Free vaccinations are also being extended to children in the first year of secondary school.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We already have some of the best flu vaccine uptake rates in Europe, but this winter more than ever it is vital that everybody eligible gets their flu vaccine to protect themselves and support the NHS and social care.”