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Think Tanks Calls for Government to Continue Momentum from COVID-19 Vaccination Programme as Winter Flu Season Approaches

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A new policy briefing published today by the International Longevity Centre-UK (ILC) and commissioned by MSD, calls for the UK Government to learn the lessons of the COVID-19 vaccination programme ahead of the upcoming flu season:

  • Inequalities in vaccination uptake remain prevalent. As is typically the case with flu vaccination, uptake of the Covid vaccine has varied between regions of the UK – ranging from a high of 85% in the Southwest of England to a low of 65.7% in London. Meanwhile, uptake of the Covid vaccine has been has also been 27% lower among those who identify as Black Caribbean compared to those identifying as White British.
  • The impact of COVID on attitudes to routine vaccinations remains unclear. Provisional data from the UK 2020/2021 flu season shows that uptake of the influenza vaccine among older people surpassed the WHO’s 75% target for the first time. However, it is uncertain whether complacency will reverse this trend once Covid is no longer causing a public health emergency.
  • A lack of accessible health data continues to hinder vaccination delivery. There are currently at least 21 different electronic systems for keeping medical records in use by NHS Trusts across the UK, and as many as 23% of these bodies still use paper records.

To raise awareness vaccines and their benefits as the NHS gears up for the impending winter flu season, ILC calls for:

  • The NHS to employ community champions, such as religious leaders, teachers and celebrities, to disseminate targeted immunisation messaging to marginalised groups.
  • Healthcare workers to encourage individuals to get their flu vaccination during other routine appointments or even deliver them at these times, including at the same time as COVID vaccination top-ups – if proven to be safe and effective.
  • All individuals to be granted access all their personal flu vaccination records via the NHS app as well as through an easy-to-access web-based portal.

To improve access to the flu vaccination programme, ILC argues:

  • Individuals should be able to book and manage their flu vaccination appointments online.
  • All flu vaccination appointments should be offered at home when necessary.
  • Community pharmacists, school nurses, care workers and midwives should be given a greater role in delivering flu vaccinations.

Dr Lisa Cameron MP, Chair of the APPG on Health, said: ‘The COVID-19 vaccination programme has allowed the nation to tentatively recover from the worst global pandemic in our lifetimes, but there is more to be done to address inequality in take up and misinformation so that the most robust response possible for all sectors of society is achieved.’

Liam Hanson, Communications and Engagement Officer at ILC, said: ‘The COVID-19 pandemic has showcased the value of immunisation as a tried, tested and cost-effective method of prevention in the most brutal way possible.

‘While the Covid vaccination programme has been successful in many ways, we can’t afford to get complacent. Inequalities in access, a lack of awareness of the benefits of routine vaccinations, and a lack of accessible health data have all acted as barriers to uptake.

‘Government now has an opportunity as well as a duty to learn the lessons of the pandemic and apply them to other vaccine-preventable diseases, most pressingly influenza as we approach flu season.’

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