Health: Only half take up offer of flu jab

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The Independent Online
More than three million people entitled to a free flu injection have not come forward for the jab, it was claimed in the Commons yesterday.

Tessa Jowell, the health minister, was pressed at question time for action by Barry Sheerman, the Labour MP for Huddersfield, who said that only half the six million people entitled to the injection actually took the opportunity.

Ms Jowell said a promotional campaign was now under way to ensure that doctors encouraged "vulnerable" people to take up their right to the free injection to help offset deaths and hospital crises in winter.

She said that, while a record number of 7.1 million doses of vaccine had already been distributed, Sir Kenneth Calman, the Chief Medical Officer, had been working to ensure that all GPs and nurses working in local practices were "aware of the importance of making the flu vaccine available to people who are vulnerable and at risk".

The minister added: "The drive to maximise the number of people vaccinated this winter against flu is further evidence of this Government's determination to do what works for patient care."

Mr Sheerman had said that, in the average year, 4,000 people died after contracting influenza and that during the 1989 epidemic up to 30,000 people died.

He told Ms Jowell: "Only three million - half of the six million vulnerable people in this country - have actually taken up their flu jab."

As the Prime Minister launched a White Paper on the future of the NHS with promises to make the service a "beacon to the world", Mr Sheerman pressed Ms Jowell for more action. He said: "Wouldn't it be a good idea to have a real promotion on this because we can prevent many people dying this winter and also stop a great cost to the National Health Service?"

A free flu jab is available to people with "underlying conditions that put them at most risk of serious illness or death should they develop flu".

It is also free to those living in nursing homes, residential homes or other "long-stay" facilities.

It is not routinely recommended for fit and healthy adults and children.