Healthcare workers have a “very strong professional responsibility” to get the winter flu jab, officials have warned, after less than half of staff in some parts of the country were vaccinated last season.
The jab will be offered to all primary school children for the first time this year, while a new form is available for adults that is manufactured using cells instead of hen’s eggs.
Some 25 million people are eligible for the vaccination, including those aged 65 and over, adults under 65 in at-risk categories, pregnant women and children.
Frontline health and social care workers should also be offered the jab by their employer.
flu infections, while sometimes severe, can also be asymptomatic, and staff can spread flu without realising itProfessor Jonathan Van-Tam
Uptake rates are “improving remarkably”, with 70% receiving the vaccination last season – up from 50.6% in 2015/16.
But Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, told a briefing that some areas saw uptake rates as low as “in the 40s or 50s”.
He did not say which areas saw the lowest rates, but the trusts are understood to be scattered across the country and tend to have a dispersed workforce.
Prof Van-Tam said: “We do know that flu infections, while sometimes severe, can also be asymptomatic, and staff can spread flu without realising it.
“From a patient perspective, you don’t want to be in a situation where you feel that seven out 10 of the healthcare professionals you meet will be vaccinated; you’d like to be in a situation where nine or 10 out of 10 you meet are vaccinated.
“So I think there’s a very, very strong professional responsibility on healthcare workers to be vaccinated.”
Health bodies are aiming for more than 90% of healthcare workers to get the jab.
There will be no repercussions for those who do not get vaccinated, with peer pressure and ease of accessibility thought to be more effective at increasing numbers.
Instead, trusts with the lowest uptakes will be required to “buddy” up with areas seeing a higher percentage of staff taking up the jab to learn from their best practice.
The vaccination programme will be under way by October 31 – when the UK is set to leave the EU.
Prof Van-Tam said he does not anticipate any delays in delivery of vaccines for children due to Brexit, and that jabs for the over-65s are “on track to be fully delivered by October 31”.
However, around a third of the UK supplies that are manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur will not make it to the country until November 18, he said.
The company is one of three suppliers of the stock used to vaccinate people under 65 who are in the at-risk categories.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has purchased an extra 400,000 doses of this vaccine to ensure there are enough supplies.
Health officials estimate there were 1,692 influenza-associated deaths last flu season.
Unison head of health Sara Gorton said: “No NHS worker would ever willingly put patients or colleagues at risk. But the highest vaccination rates are in trusts that encourage staff to get the jab, not those where employees are coerced.
“Pressuring staff to have the injection, when some may be reluctant for genuine reasons, is counter-productive. The NHS couldn’t get by without the goodwill of its staff, and trusts should be mindful of not wishing to jeopardise that.”
Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: “It’s vital health care workers get the flu jab to protect the most vulnerable in society, including those with a lung condition, for whom getting the flu can have a serious impact.
“Alongside health care workers, we’d also urge anyone working in social care, such as a nursing home, and any carers for those with a lung condition to get the jab.
“It must be made as easy as possible for these people to get the jab to make sure that those who are at greatest risk, and those who care for them, are protected this flu season.”