A think tank has called for the Government to improve efforts to boost vaccine uptake and set up a public health disinformation unit after a report found that one in four Britons would reject a flu jab if offered. A new report from the Institute for Public Policy (IPPR) has warned that much more needs to be done to address vaccine inequality and ramp up uptake after a survey found that 23 percent of adults would refuse a flu shot if they were invited for one.
This is despite the Government’s COVID-19 vaccination program proving largely successful, the think tank said, but it warned that there is still “huge room for improvement” to ramp up uptake.
The survey, done in collaboration with polling site YouGov, also found that those in low-income occupations are less likely to accept a vaccine invitation (27 percent, compared to 20 percent in higher-income occupations).
Polling also revealed that the same group is more likely to trust low-quality information sources such as chat rooms and forums (19 percent compared with 12 percent). According to the think tank, this indicates that vaccine inequality should be viewed as an injustice, rather than simply treated as a matter of individual choice.
To address this, the IPPR is calling on the Government to urgently work with employers, schools and local communities to enable more equal access to and uptake of vaccines.
It also suggests that ministers set up a permanent Whitehall unit to monitor and fight online health disinformation as it surfaces. The report adds that the task force should step in immediately in the event of another public health emergency that is similar to the Covid pandemic.
Efua Poku-Amanfo, IPPR researcher and lead author of the report, said: “Vaccines are recognized as one of the most effective and cost-efficient health interventions ever created and save millions of lives every year, with over 100,000 deaths in the UK prevented by the Covid-19 vaccine in its first nine months.
“We must continue to harness vaccine’s preventive potential in UK health policy, but their benefits are at risk due to vaccine inequality. People on low incomes or from marginalized backgrounds are more likely to face barriers to taking up vaccinations. The Government must learn the lessons from the pandemic and focus on structural solutions to tackle vaccine inequality.”
This comes after flu hospitalizations in England surged by more than 40 percent in one week. The number of people in hospital with the flu climbed from 966 to 1,377 in the last week, compared with the 22 recorded during the same period last year.
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Chris Thomas, IPPR principal research fellow, urged the Government to build on the lessons learned from Covid and make it easier for people to get to vaccine appointments.
He said: “Vaccines have huge health and prosperity potential. But to unleash that, the government needs to think differently about vaccine policy. Individualising and moralising concepts like ‘hesitancy’ misunderstand that the barriers to vaccine equality are structural, social and economic.
“To this end, we call on ministers to work with others to remove barriers to vaccine equality. They should work with employers and businesses to help people get to vaccine appointments, and take sick leave for symptoms.
“They should work with schools and the NHS to build trust among young people. And they should actively seek and take down sources of harmful disinformation online. Covid showed the value of vaccines – now it’s time to put those lessons into practice and deliver better health and lives for all.”
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Back in October, the UK Health and Security Agency warned that hospital and ICU admissions for the flu had been rising the fastest in children under five, although hospital rates among the elderly are also going up.
Dr Mary Ramsay, the director of public health programs at UKSHA, said: “We’re urging parents in particular not to be caught out as rates of hospitalizations and ICU admissions are currently rising fastest in children under five.
“This will be a concern for many parents and carers of young children, and we urge them to take up the offer of vaccination for eligible children as soon as possible.”