Health chief’s plea as 4,500 at-risk patients shun flu jabs

NEARLY 4,500 Borderers, around 38 per cent of those considered at risk of contracting seasonal influenza, failed to take up the offer of flu jabs last year.

And that figure does not include the over- 65s, all of whom are entitled to the free inoculations.

The shock revelation comes during Scottish Flu Awareness Week, which runs until Sunday and seeks to stress the benefits of the jabs.

“Flu is a serious illness and the vaccination is the most effective protection from it,” said Dr Tim Patterson, public health consultant with NHS Borders.

He added: “If you are in one of the at-risk groups, then the impact of flu can be even more serious with symptoms hitting you harder and lasting longer. You could end up in hospital or contract pneumonia or bronchitis.”

Apart from the over-65s, the key target groups eligible for the jabs are those with existing long-term medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis and other heart, lung and liver diseases. Also considered at risk are pregnant women, unpaid carers of any age and NHS workers who deal directly with patients.

“I strongly urge anyone in these groups to make sure they go to their GP to get the free jab,” said Dr Patterson. “It only takes a few minutes be vaccinated, but it offers protection for around a year.”

This year’s vaccine protects against three types of flu, including the swine flu strain which is still circulating.

“It takes about 10 days for you to be protected ... so it’s best to get is as early possible in the flu season which is from this month onwards,” said Dr Patterson.

Each GP practice in the Borders is making its own arrangements for giving the vaccine during this month and November and will contact those patients in the at-risk group.

NHS Borders is advising that people in that group who have not made arrangements to get the vaccine by mid November should contact their GP surgeries for an appointment.

Those unsure about their eligibility or who require further information should speak to their local GP practice nurse, pharmacist or contact NHS Inform on 0800 224 488.

Dr Patterson’s plea is principally aimed at the 4,452 under-65s who eschewed the jabs last winter and NHS Borders has set itself the target of increasing that uptake from 62 per cent to 75 per cent over the next two months.

However, figures from last year reveal that, among the over-65s, the uptake (78 per cent) in the Borders was the second highest in Scotland.