With the mercury plunging below freezing NHS England South is again urging people to take steps to stay well this winter to get their flu vaccination jab.
The latest vaccination uptake figures released by Public Health England for the period from 1 September until the end of November 2016 show encouraging increases compared with the same period last year as more and more people recognise the importance of protecting themselves against flu.
However, across the South region many people in vulnerable at-risk groups are still not being vaccinated, leaving themselves at risk from the potentially fatal risk that flu poses.
Priority at-risk groups eligible for the free vaccine include those aged over 65, those under 65 but who have a long-term condition, pregnant women and children aged from two up to five-years-old.
In the South Central area, which covers Gloucestershire, Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon, Wiltshire, Buckinghamshire Oxfordshire and Berkshire:
· The best vaccination uptake is among those aged over 65 with around 68 per cent of those eligible receiving the jab, around the same as last year. But that means more than 205,000 people across South Central have not been vaccinated.
· There was a 4.7 per cent increase in vaccination by those aged below 65 who have a long-term condition, such as heart or liver disease which puts them at particular risk from flu. But only 44 percent of this group took up the jab, meaning more than 208,000 people have still not protected themselves.
· Just 43 per cent of pregnant women have received their free vaccination, an increase by more than two per cent on last year. But nearly 20,000 women have not been vaccinated, putting themselves and their child at serious risk. The vaccine protects the mother while pregnant from developing serious complications associated with flu, but also provides protection for the baby in its early months when born.
· Only 38 per cent of children aged between two up to five-years-old have been vaccinated, an increase of around four per cent on last year. But this means parents of more than 82,000 children have still not taken steps to protect their child and those around them from the threat of flu. Young children are both vulnerable to the effects of flu but can also spread the virus to others.
Nigel Acheson, Regional Medical Director, NHS England South, said:
“The uptake of the jab so far is encouraging with some improvements on last year, but there are many who would benefit who are still not protecting themselves by being vaccinated.
“It is not too late to get the vaccine and it remains the best way for those who are at the highest risk to protect themselves from the severe effects of the ‘flu virus.
“Those in these key at-risk groups are eligible for a free vaccination. This includes older people and pregnant women, as well as those people with health conditions, even those that are well managed.
Conditions include asthma, diabetes, heart, lung, liver and renal dieses, those with weakened immune systems. Young children from two, up to five-years-old, should also be protected.
“Anyone in these groups who hasn’t yet had the vaccine can receive it for free through their GP or midwife, and from your local high street pharmacist so it is quick and easy to arrange.”
Vaccination against the flu virus is just one strand of the wider NHS Stay Well this Winter campaign advising the public on how to avoid common illness during winter. The simple steps are to:
Make sure you get the flu jab
Keep yourself warm - heat your home to least 18 degrees C (or 65F) if you can
Get help from your pharmacist quickly, if you start to feel unwell, even if it’s just a cough or a cold, before it gets more serious
Keep stocked up on your prescription medicines
Always take your prescribed medicines as directed
Use NHS Choices, call 111 or visit your local pharmacist for advice in a non-emergency
Check up on those more vulnerable – family, friends and neighbours