The seasonal influenza immunisation programme in England aims to protect clinical at-risk groups from serious illness or death following influenza infection. Here we look at England's flu vaccination coverage for people aged 65 years and over as well as how the UK compares internationally.
For most people, flu is an unpleasant illness, but is not serious. However, certain people are more likely to develop serious complications of flu, such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Influenza immunisation has been recommended in the UK since the late 1960s, with the aim of protecting clinically at-risk groups who are at a higher risk of influenza-associated morbidity and mortality. In 2000, the policy was extended to include all people aged 65 years and over, and in 2010 pregnancy was added as a clinical risk category. In 2013 to 2014, the childhood programme was first implemented to target children from the ages of 2 to 9 years.
The ambition for vaccine coverage for people aged 65 years and over is to reach or exceed 75% uptake, as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). In England, influenza vaccination coverage for people aged 65 years and over has fluctuated over time between 71% and 75%. The WHO target was last met in the winter of 2005-06, when flu vaccine uptake reached 75.3%. Notably, there was a drop in flu vaccine uptake to 70.5% in 2016-17, which has since recovered slightly to 72.6% in 2017-18.
Between 2000 and 2016, the UK had some of the highest levels of influenza vaccination coverage amongst over 65 year olds compared to other OECD countries. In 2016, 70.5% of the population aged 65 and over were immunised. The UK exceeded the WHO target of 75% coverage in 2005 and 2006. The Netherlands and the UK consistently have the highest levels of flu vaccine coverage, whilst Austria, Germany and Denmark generally have the lowest levels of coverage.
About this data
England time series: It is important to note that influenza vaccine uptake data is only a snapshot of the registered GP patients vaccinated at the time of data extraction/end of the data collection. Data captured at the time of data extraction will exclude for example updates to patient records on vaccination status or newly registered patients or changes in clinical risk status. For example, patients who are vaccinated, but have not had their electronic patient record updated by the time of data extraction, will be included within the denominator, but will not be included in the count of ‘number vaccinated’. For more information, please see Public Health England's Seasonal influenza vaccine uptake in GP patients: winter season 2017 to 2018 report.
OECD data: Influenza vaccination rates refer to the number of people aged 65 and over who have been received an annual influenza vaccination, divided by the total number of people over 65 years of age. In some countries, the data are for people over 60 years of age. The main limitation in terms of data comparability arises from the use of different data sources, whether survey or programme, which are susceptible to different types of errors and biases. For example, data from population surveys may reflect some variation due to recall errors and irregularity of administration. The definition and combarability information are taken directly from the OECD report Health at a Glance 2017. Detailed information about the definitions, source and methods for each country can be found here.