Have you had your flu jab?

A sharp drop in the number of patients seeking a flu jab this winter is causing concern amongst doctors. It is estimated that tens of thousands of high risk patients could contract Influenza by failing to take up the free vaccine.

It is thought that the reduction in uptake this year is due to wide opinion that last year’s vaccine was ineffective, even though it was shown to have prevented flu in the 1/3 of patients having the jab. The Royal College of GP’s has also said that the warmer than average October and November may also be leading patients to conclude that this season will prove to be a healthy one. But Dr Maureen Baker from the Royal College of GP’s has said “we don’t need cold weather for a flu outbreak and influenza is a horrible illness that can also trigger other health problems”.

‘At risk’ patients, entitled to the free vaccine, include the elderly, pregnant women and patients with medical condition that could increase the risk of contraction of the virus. But Public Health England thinks that the problem is not as widespread as GP’s think. Pharmacies are also able to administer the jab and it is thought that many patients are opting for this more convenient way of treatment, rather than going to their GP as they have in the past. Pharmacies are expected to inform GP’s that their patients have had the vaccine, but it may be that this is not happening or there is a delay in relaying the information.

If patients are not having the jab elsewhere, then this problem stretches beyond the GP practice. Vaccinations for illnesses such as Influenza are the first line of defence for emergency services in the winter. Without them, the number of high risk patients either contracting or having serious effects from a virus will increase, and this will place strain on A&E departments and Out of Hours practices across the country. Some of those patients will then be admitted to hospital for treatment, taking up beds and passing on the problem to wards and affecting outpatient appointments.

The message from the medical profession is that anyone entitled to the flu jab should see either their GP or local pharmacy to receive their vaccination. If you are unsure whether or not you should receive the jab, speak to your GP who will be able to provide advice on the best treatment options for you.