Flu is serious so get the jab now, GPs warn as take-up hits five-year low
Don't underestimate how serious flu can be - that's the warning from top doctors as flu jab take-up hits a five-year low in parts of Suffolk and north Essex.
Fewer people in ‘at-risk’ categories – including over 65s, pregnant women, babies and under 65s with other illnesses – are having their yearly vaccination in places like Colchester and Tendring, government data shows.
As colder weather persists in the region, Suffolk GP Dr Christopher Browning has some advice for those choosing not to have the vaccination.
“Winter is not over yet and it is still appropriate for those people at greater risk of complications from flu to protect their health with a flu vaccination,” he said.
“It is important not to underestimate just how serious flu can be.
“It can cause deterioration in a long-term health condition and result in an admission to hospital.
“In young children, flu can cause middle ear and sinus infections.”
How is our region doing compared to the national picture?
Six in 10 pregnant women in the north east Essex clinical commissioning group (CCG) area are yet to be vaccinated this winter – as just 38.1% of them 3,152 eligible have had the jab.
Meanwhile, just 67.4% of the 77,293 people in the over 65s bracket have had their vaccination, and 43.8% of the 37,332 eligible under 65s are protected against flu this winter. All of these are below the national averages for 2018-19, and take-up for all three categories has hit a five-year low in this area.
CCG bosses said they have added extra weekend and evening GP appointments to ensure everyone considered at risk gets the jab.
Vaccination appointments are available at supermarkets and chemists, they added, and schools have been vaccinating while care homes have had nurses visit.
A spokesman said: “The CCG has been taking part in the ‘Help Us Help You’ campaign and posting regular messages and links to services on its social media pages, encouraging people to get the flu jab since autumn 2018.”
Take-up at Suffolk’s CCGs is considered above average for pregnant women at just under 50% for Ipswich and east Suffolk, and 51.5% for west Suffolk.
Dr Browning said this is “pleasing” to hear, as flu can cause serious harm to an unborn baby.
However, 44.4% of the 29,408 ‘at-risk under 65s’ at the West Suffolk CCG have had their jab so far this winter – slightly below the national average.
For over 65s, Ipswich and east Suffolk was significantly above national rates with 72% of the 90,706 people in this category getting vaccinated, but down on the 75% who had the jab last winter.
West Suffolk was not far behind with 71% of the 57,770 eligible over 65s vaccinated so far this winter.
Where can I get the flu jab?
Dr Browning said some people choose not to have a vaccination because they had one last year, or they may see flu as just a bad cold.
However, there are different strains every year – so everyone needs an annual jab to stay protected.
Those in at-risk groups who are yet to have their free jab to contact their GP practice or pharmacy to organise one.
James Reeder, responsible for health at Suffolk County Council, said: “It can be all too easy to put off the vaccination due to other commitments. “However, flu is a nasty illness that can leave its sufferers out of action for some time and can even cause death.
“If you are eligible for the flu vaccine get it now – it’s free because you need it.
“While it is better to have the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available, it’s always worth getting vaccinated before the end of the flu season in March.
“Contact your GP or local pharmacy as soon as possible to arrange a vaccination.
“It’s a simple but vitally important way of protecting your health and reducing the spread of flu to friends and loved ones.”
For further help and advice, visit the NHS website.