Flu vaccine take-up down across Scotland amid complacency warnings

A lower percentage of people are getting the flu vaccine compared to five years ago

The flu jab uptake has dropped compared to five years ago

Scotland could be on the verge of feeling the worst of both flu and Covid-19 this winter if the number of people taking advantage of the flu vaccine continues to decline.

The warning comes alongside fears that the country is becoming complacent about flu and the vaccine with many choosing not to get the simple and often free jab.

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Statistics from the BBC Shared Data Unit show the number of people getting the vaccine has dropped in Scotland over the last five years with the percentage of over-65s getting the vaccine dropping by 3.2 per cent.

Those classified as at-risk and under the age of 65 have seen the steepest drop in the uptake, falling by 15.1 per cent to 42.4 per cent, well below the Scottish Government’s own target of 75 per cent.

No local authority managed to reach the target in Scotland during 2019. The average vaccination rate across the 15 local authorities was just 43.3%.

Pregnant women considered at risk also saw a drop of 7.5 per cent, but the uptake among healthcare workers, pre-school and primary school children has risen by 16.5, 5.2 and 5.7 per cent respectively since 2014.

Director of the Vaccine Confidence Project, Professor Heidi Larson warned that the flu vaccine would help “limit the stress” on the NHS during the often difficult winter months.

She said: “I think it’s pretty important this year because what the UK wouldn’t want is cases of people catching both flu and Covd-19. Both attack the respiratory system but Covid attacks a lot more organs than just the lungs. You wouldn’t want that double attack on the system.

“It’s also so important to limit the stress on the system.

Professor Larson added that while there is not the same “aggressive ‘anti’ sentiment” against the flu vaccine as there is against childhood vaccines, she is worried about “complacency” around the vaccine.

She said: “I find there is almost a complacency around the vaccine in the UK.

“It doesn’t have the same aggressive ‘anti’ sentiment we see against some of the childhood vaccines but I do think there a lot of perceptions around the vaccine in general and there is a degree of truth to them.

“Part of the nasal vaccine for children contains traces of porcine gelatin, which has prevented many Muslim parents from taking it up.

“There are also people that say it doesn’t work enough, it’s not effective enough. Some of these concerns aren’t wrong. Some years it really isn’t that effective against all strains.

“But I would certainly urge people to take it anyway as you wouldn’t want the strains that it does protect against.”

Donald Cameron, the Scottish Conservative’s health spokesman said it was “extremely worrying” the targets were being missed and called on the SNP to “urgently” increase uptake.

He said: “It’s extremely worrying that the SNP government is failing to meet its flu vaccine targets, particularly among the elderly and vulnerable.

“This clearly stores up problems for NHS capacity this winter, but more importantly it leaves already fragile people highly exposed.

“Given the added complications of Covid this year, the SNP government must tackle this poor uptake urgently and make sure that Scots are protected prior to winter.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said the annual marketing campaign will focus on “increasing motivation” to get vaccinated this year.

They said: “The seasonal flu vaccination programme helps to protect the most vulnerable and alleviate pressure on our NHS. This will be more important than ever this winter, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the potential for both viruses to be in circulation at the same time.

“The most effective way to protect against the seasonal flu is to continue to prioritise vaccinating those who are most at risk. We aim to vaccinate more people within existing eligible groups than ever before, including those aged 65 and over and those with health conditions. We are also expanding free eligibility to social care workers who provide direct care, household members of individuals who are shielding, and those aged 55 and over 50 to 54 year olds, as vaccines supply allows.

“Our national marketing campaign will focus on increasing motivation to get vaccinated this year by clearly explaining the benefits in terms of protecting yourself, others and helping our NHS.”

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