Improving access to vaccinations and educating people about their benefits could help boost uptake among at-risk groups, a report has recommended.
Millions of people in the UK live with a health condition thats put them at greater risk of serious illness from diseases that could easily be prevented by vaccines, such as influenza (flu), pneumococcal disease (pneumonia) and Covid-19.
Yet, voluntary uptake of flu and pneumonia vaccines remains low, according to the think-tank The International Longevity Centre. The average take-up of the flu vaccination among at-risk people in the UK is just 57%, while only 17% of people in the clinical risk group eligible for the pneumonia vaccine had the jab between 2018 and 2020.
In England, eight million at-risk people were registered for the flu vaccine during the 2020/21 flu season, but only 53% were vaccinated, leaving 3.75 million at-risk people unvaccinated against the flu last winter, it estimated.
On the other hand, the Covid-19 double vaccination rate in England for at-risk people was 81% as of 5 September 2021, and 92% for the clinically extremely vulnerable.
Lord Mendelsohn, officer for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Vulnerable Groups to Pandemics, said: “In the UK, there are millions of people who are at greater risk from vaccine-preventable diseases because of underlying health conditions. This has been made even clearer by the Covid-19 pandemic.”
“It’s vital that we make sure all at-risk people are well-informed about the importance of routine vaccination and have good access to them, especially as we head into the winter months. Charities and policymakers should work together to find new ways to encourage and sustain vaccine uptake in clinical risk groups.”
The ILC’s Reducing the risk: Improving vaccine uptake across at-risk groups in the UK report, has suggested there are several reasons why flu and pneumonia vaccination levels are low, including:
- Communication barriers – misinformation, poor communication and inconsistent messaging that increases vaccine hesitancy and causes confusion among at-risk groups.
- Structural barriers – people from ethnic minorities and those living with HIV are more likely to face barriers, due to a lack of trust in public organisations and fear of stigma and discrimination from healthcare providers.
- Personal factors – needle phobias, conflicts with individual choices, time constraints, medical pressures, and age, could all dissuade people from getting a vaccine.
- Accessibility issues – physical and geographical barriers and inflexible appointment times can limit the ability groups to access vaccinations.
To overcome these barriers, the ILC has made three recommendations to help improve vaccination rates in at-risk people:
- Improving vaccination communications and information – targeted communications and personalised messagin which speaks to at-risk individuals and their conditions.
- Fostering closer community collaborations and partnerships – charities, community leaders, public health groups and pharmacies should work together to promote and encourage vaccination.
- Making vaccinations easier to access– making the immunisation process more inclusive will be pivotal in ensuring everyone is able to attend vaccination appointments, regardless of their physical or mental health.
Patrick Swain, research and projects officer at ILC, said: “While uptake of the Covid-19 vaccine in clinical risk groups has been positive, there is still a long way to go with other routine vaccinations. We must continue with the same momentum as seen with the Covid-19 vaccine rollout for other immunisations.
“As we head into winter, we must ensure measures are put into place that enables at-risk groups to receive these vaccines with confidence and ease. Charities have played a critical role during the Covid-19 pandemic, offering tailored support and advice to different at-risk groups during uncertain times. Moving beyond the pandemic, they should harness this expertise and continue to advise clinical risk groups about the importance and benefits of immunisation.”