People who are at a greater risk of contracting winter flu need to be encouraged by healthcare professionals to take up the vaccination, it has been claimed.
Government targets state that 75% of at-risk groups should be immunised, but figures released by the Health Protection Agency reveal that last year, just 37% of women the healthy pregnant group came forward for the jab.
Flu commonly affects older people, and the number of over-65s who were vaccinated in England and Wales was a higher proportion, at 73%.
But the main strain in last year’s outbreak, which claimed 602 lives in the UK, was swine flu, which elderly people have a certain level of resistance to.
HPA figures show that more than 70% of the deaths occurred among people aged between 15 and 64, but that just 50% of under-65s ‘at risk’ in England and Wales came forward for the vaccination.
The uptake numbers for last year were “very concerning”, officials said.
Professor John Watson, of the HPA, said: “A concerted effort must be made by healthcare professionals - including GPs and midwives - to encourage those at risk to take up the offer of vaccination. It is the best way to protect against flu.”
In response the the statistics, the NHS in England has been given three years to increase the immunisation rate to 75%.