Warnings issued after ‘high risk’ patients are not going for their flu jab

We are fast approaching the winter season in the UK as autumn is coming to a close. You may have already noticed this though by the rapidly dropping temperatures, the need to use the ice scraper on your car windscreen and it is now getting darker much earlier in the evenings. The wintery chill will unfortunately also bring with it a high number of colds and flu outbreaks across Britain. The common cold can be dealt with simple enough and will be gone within a week usually but the flu can be more serious and even prove fatal at times.

However many of the population who are deemed as ‘high risk’ are not receiving the flu jab despite many the warnings that health officials give around this time each year.  Department of Health (DOH) figures worryingly show that many people who are at risk of becoming seriously ill from flu complications, have yet to receive the flu vaccination.

The vaccine is available without charge to those deemed at risk to provide protection against catching flu and developing serious complication such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Some of the eligible groups of people include anyone over 65 years of age or over, if you have a certain medical condition such as asthma or diabetes, are pregnant or if you are the carer for somebody who may be at risk if you yourself fall ill.

Information released by the DOH though shows that an increasing number of pensioners and those with medical conditions are not bothering to get the vaccine. In England alone there are approximately 4,700 deaths every year that are attributed to flu and those who are in the ‘high risk’ groups are shockingly around 11 times more likely to die from it in comparison to somebody not deemed at risk.

Figures show that at the end of last week 48.9% of patients aged 65 or over in England had received the flu jab. However, in the same week in 2011, the take-up for the vaccine was 54.8%. A similar trend has been seen in patients with health conditions such as asthma, whereby 28.7% of patients had received the vaccine by 28 October and at the same point last year the figure stood at 32.2%.

Health officials are now urging those at high risk to get themselves to their GP for a vaccination and there has been a website set-up called ‘Winterwatch’, which will go live in the next few weeks and will aim to provide up-to-date winter-related health information.

The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, warned: “Cold weather can be hazardous for our health – particularly for older people and those with respiratory illnesses. Each year, the cold weather is responsible for an increase in deaths and thousands of cases of flu, falls, heart attacks and strokes. In past years, these extra pressures have cost the NHS £42 million in emergency admissions alone. As winter approaches, we should all be on our guard against health problems – by taking simple steps and looking after our older friends and family we can keep warm and well.”

Adding to Mr Hunt’s comments was public health minister Anna Soubry, who said: “We have taken the decision this year to run a flu campaign because too many people in at-risk groups have not come forward for the jab yet, although local campaigns have been running for the past month. Our campaign aims to encourage people who are most at risk from flu, who have put it off or who don’t think it is important, to get the vaccine.”

People should bear in mind that it can take around ten days for the vaccine to provide protection against flu following the jab. If you are unsure whether you need the vaccine or wondering if you are able to receive a free vaccine, you can contact NHS Inform on 0800 22 44 88 for more information.

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