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PHE urges GP practices to tackle low flu vaccination uptake following alert

GP practices and pharmacists are being 'strongly encouraged' to continue vaccinating as many people as possible against flu, due to low levels of uptake. 

Public Health England, which issued the call, noted vaccination clinics had started later than normal this flu season due to manufacturing problems with the nasal spray for children and a delay in the World Health Organization’s recommendation on influenza strains.

PHE stressed that vaccinations needed to continue over the coming weeks, despite this usually being a period when vaccination activity slows.

It follows an alert sent out by PHE's London team encouraging children to get vaccinated, after it revealed only 19% of pre-school age children in the city had received the vaccine - half the rate for the UK.

The latest official weekly figures show that, up to 12 January, GP practices reported the proportion of people in England who had received the 2019/20 influenza vaccine in targeted groups was 41.8% for patients under 65 years in a clinical risk group, 41.9% among pregnant women, and 71.1% in patients aged 65 and over.

At the same point last year, the 2018/19 influenza vaccine had been given to 45.7% of patients aged under 65 years in a clinical risk group, to 44.2% of pregnant women, and to 70.5% of patients aged 65 and above.

Similarly, up to 12 January this year, GP practices reported 39.2% of two-year-olds and 39.4% of three-year-olds had been vaccinated - compared with 42.4% and 44.2% last year, respectively. 

In London, the latest breakdown of figures - up until the end of November - show only 19% of children aged two and three had been given the vaccine by that point. Since the start of the season, 23 flu outbreaks have been reported in London, mostly affecting schools.

Dr Jamie Lopez Bernal, head of flu at PHE, said: 'Although flu shows signs of peaking, it is still circulating in the community. Anyone who is eligible and has not yet been vaccinated should contact their GP or pharmacist without delay.

'Uptake among 2 to 3-year-olds is behind where we would like to see it, so we are calling on parents to get their children vaccinated as soon as possible.'

He added: 'Current evidence suggests the vaccine is a good match for the main strain of flu that is circulating.'

In its weekly report, PHE said: 'PHE and NHS England are strongly encouraging GPs and pharmacies to continue to vaccinate as many people as possible, as uptake remains lower than last year.'

GPs in England were advised to call in all eligible children for their flu vaccination in December, particularly those in high risk groups whose school vaccination clinic had been delayed.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said last year that he was 'seriously considering' compulsory childhood vaccination.