Britons should be given vaccination record cards and be advised it is their “civic duty” to get immunised, experts recommend on Tuesday, warning that increasing migration, an ageing population and the growth of antibiotic resistance is increasing the threat posed by infectious diseases.
A report launched on Tuesday will call for increased adult vaccination against infectious diseases, including seasonal influenza, pneumococcal diseases, whooping cough, shingles, diphtheria and tetanus.
It will recommend that eligible adults are given flu vaccine vouchers to use at pharmacies under a pilot programme; that the Government should set additional immunisation targets; and that it should review vaccination rates among health and social care workers. Only 45 per cent of health and social care workers were vaccinated against the flu last year.
The report, Immune Response, drawn up by the UK’s International Longevity Centre (ILC-UK), describes vaccination as an “underused” public health strategy among older adults. Baroness Sally Greengross, CEO of ILC-UK, said that in recent decades “policymakers have begun to use vaccination to support good health later in life”. But she added: “Now is not the time to get complacent. The growth of antibiotic resistance... and the context of migration mean that we need to put greater focus on improving uptake of adult vaccinations in the UK.”
This year, England recorded the highest number of excess deaths in four years, which was linked in part to an unusually prolonged flu season. Alongside Slovakia, the UK also has the highest reported mortality rates from pneumonia in Europe.
Immunisation prevents between two and three million deaths a year, according to the World Health Organisation. Recent research points to the cost-effective nature of vaccinating older adults: in a recent study in the Netherlands, it was estimated that for every €1 invested in adult vaccination from the age of 50, €4.02 of future economic revenue could be generated.
The report calls for vaccination to be promoted as an “easy” default choice, especially for older generations. It calls on the Government to “play on the strong sense of civic duty which might encourage vaccination to protect others, particularly if advised to do so by their physicians”.
David Taylor, professor of pharmaceutical and public health policy at the UCL School of Pharmacy, said “extending access” to vaccination has a “significant potential for improving public health” in the UK. “Greater community pharmacy involvement in the delivery of seasonal influenza vaccination for older people could generate increased health gains,” he told The Independent.
He added that “just as all care workers should be equipped to help older people take medicine, they should be all be protected, where they can, against infections”.
A Department of Health spokesman said Britain already had a “world-class national immunisation programme”. He added: “We have introduced a shingles vaccine for 70-year-olds for the first time this year and our flu vaccine uptake is among the highest in the world, but we are striving for even higher.”