Almost half of free Covid and flu vaccines have gone unclaimed over winter

Studies are now underway to find out why almost half those eligible for protective jabs chose not to have them.

Almost half of free Covid and flu vaccines have gone unclaimed over winter in West Lothian hxyume via iStock

The numbers of people taking free Covid and flu jabs fell by almost 50% in West Lothian, and across Scotland, this winter.

Despite more local vaccine sites being available in the county, and after warnings about the discovery of a new strain of Covid in the Autumn, only around half of those offered a free vaccine accepted.

Studies are now underway to find out why almost half those eligible for protective jabs chose not to have them.

There have been suggestions that people might be “jab weary” after the intensive vaccination programme during the two years of the Covid Pandemic.

Members of West Lothian’s Integration Joint Board, which oversees health care provision in the county, suggested offering the vaccines to wider groups to ensure they are used.

Chief Officer Allison White said in her report to the Board: “Unfortunately, West Lothian has now fallen below the Scottish national average for both Covid and flu vaccine uptake.

“At the time of writing, West Lothian had 52.3% uptake, with the national average uptake 53.3%.”

Chairing this month’s meeting of the IJB Bill McQueen asked Mrs White: “I assume I’m not the only voice in the country wondering why the Scottish Government has not opened the doors more widely to vaccinations given the uptake from the groups who are mandated to receive it are so low.”

“Has serious consideration been given to that, and is there a good reason why they have let the next group come forward?

Neil Ferguson, General Manager Primary Care and Community Services, told the meeting the decision on who qualified for the vaccine was based on which groups would benefit most.

Mr McQueen suggested the IJB would hopefully find out at its next meeting what would happen to unused vaccines.

Mrs White said in her report: “Patients who are eligible were contacted with new appointments, however uptake remains low.

“A small test of change is being considered where the vaccination nursing team contact patients who meet eligibility to see if that will improve uptake, speaking to a health care professional about any concerns they may have. “

The planned start date for those most at risk – in October – was brought forward to the start of September with vaccinations of the housebound and those over 75 after a new strain of Covid was discovered.

West Lothian moved away from a large mass site vaccination delivery model to a local clinic delivery model ensuring a more inclusive approach for the 2023/24 winter vaccination programme.

The programme offered 10 vaccination clinics and 6 pharmacy clinics across West Lothian offering early morning, evening and weekend appointments. Additionally, a number of pop-up clinics were set up in areas of poor uptake and areas where there were no local clinics.

NHS Lothian was one of the first health boards in Scotland to move to a walk in model for Covid and flu vaccination in November. Housebound vaccinations and care home vaccinations were also delivered within the allocated time frames.

A spokesperson for Public Health Scotland (PHS) confirmed to the Local Democracy Reporting Service that vaccine uptakes had dropped nationwide this winter.

“COVID-19 and Flu vaccination uptake rates for Scotland are lower for the Winter 2023 programme than equivalent in Winter 2022.

“Uptake rates remain strong for certain eligible groups, including care home residents, those with a weakened immune system and those aged over 65.

“ PHS are conducting evaluation around uptake in certain groups and will engage with stakeholders as to how these can be improved in future programmes.”

The spokesperson added: “Vaccination remains the best way to protect yourself against the most likely circulating strains of flu and COVID-19 and it’s not too late to get vaccinated.

“Those who have not yet received their winter vaccines are encouraged to increase their protection by taking up the offer of vaccination.”

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