FLU jab rates were below target for vulnerable groups and primary pupils in Oxfordshire last year, figures reveal, as the Government aims to ramp up vaccinations this autumn.

Public Health England figures show just 48.5 per cent of clinically at risk people in the county had the vaccine between September and February – below the target of at least 55 per cent.

The group includes those aged between six months and 64 years old with serious diseases, the severely obese and people with learning disabilities who are at greater risk of developing serious complications if they catch flu.

It was above the national average of 44.9 per cent.

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A free vaccine is also offered to people aged 65 or over, with the uptake rate in Oxfordshire for this group 76.3 per cent – above the 75 per cent minimum.

The picture was different across England, where the average uptake rates for both groups were below recommended levels.

Oxford Mail:

Flu vaccination Oxfordshire uptake for 2019/2020 for under 65s in the at risk group. Picture: Public Health England

The Government wants to expand the programme to include those shielding from coronavirus and members of their household, health and social care workers, and later to all those aged 50 or over.

It says this could amount to more than 30 million people including existing target groups – double the number of vaccinations recorded in Public Health England’s 2019-20 flu report.

Oxford Mail:

Flu vaccination Oxfordshire uptake for 2019/2020 for over 65s. Picture: Public Health England

The chief medical officer Chris Whitty has asked health professionals for a 'concerted effort' to achieve at least 75 per cent uptake across all eligible groups.

Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said the ‘very real threat of a second wave’ of coronavirus makes this year’s flu programme more important than ever.

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He added: “The additional number of patients and ongoing circulation of Covid-19 will be a major challenge for GPs and practices who will be delivering this year’s programme with social distancing measures in place.”

Professor Marshall said it was essential GPs have enough PPE, access to testing, and staff to cope with the new pressures.

Free vaccinations are also being extended to children in the first year of secondary school.

It is already offered to all primary school children, and 64.6 per cent of those eligible in Oxfordshire were vaccinated last winter, just short of the target of at least 65 per cent. Nationally, the average uptake rate was just 60.4 per cent.

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Dr Meenu Paul from Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group said: “This year it is more important than ever for people to get vaccinated against flu, getting the vaccination can not only prevent you from getting ill but also protect others around you.

"The flu vaccine is offered free of charge on the NHS to eligible groups to ensure they are protected against catching flu and developing serious complications. The CCG will be working with healthcare partners across the county, including GP practices and schools in Oxfordshire to make sure that everyone is aware of how to get their vaccination.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We already have some of the best flu vaccine uptake rates in Europe, but this winter more than ever it is vital that everybody eligible gets their flu vaccine to protect themselves and support the NHS and social care.

“The Health Secretary has outlined plans for the biggest flu vaccine programme in UK history and healthcare staff will work to vaccinate more than 30 million people, millions more than received it last year.”