Seasonal flu vaccination coverage among high-risk groups has fallen in Europe, and just one European country reached the recommended goal of 75% coverage in older people, a study has found.
The research published in Vaccine
, which looked at information from surveys of seasonal influenza vaccine recommendations; number of vaccines distributed; and vaccination coverage by target groups between 2008–2009 and 2014–2015, also found that half of European countries reported a decrease in the number of vaccines available.
Produced by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Europe, the study found that less than one third of older people were vaccinated in half of the countries surveyed and only one country reached the recommended goal of 75% coverage in older people in 2014–2015.
In a joint statement, published on 7 February 2018, the two organisations warned that the low uptake of seasonal influenza vaccination in Europe jeopardised the capacity to protect people during annual epidemics.
“Vaccination is the most effective measure to prevent severe disease caused by influenza. However, according to our research, influenza vaccination uptake has been steadily declining in a number of countries in the European Region,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe.
“This is of serious concern now for people at higher risk of severe consequences, especially older people, and in the future potentially for the entire population, as the production of pandemic vaccines is closely linked to seasonal vaccine use.
“I urge European countries to increase vaccination coverage to hit the goal of 75% uptake among older and other at-risk people,” she added.
The WHO and partners have estimated that more than 44,000 people die annually of respiratory diseases associated with seasonal influenza in the WHO European Region. Despite the fact that over 75% of these deaths are among people aged 65 years or above, vaccine uptake remains low in this group.
Accessibility, availability and convenience of vaccination services; social and cultural norms; and individual motivation, knowledge and skills have all been identified by the WHO as barriers to vaccination.
 Jorgensen P, Mereckiene J, Cotter S et al. How close are countries of the WHO European Region to achieving the goal of vaccinating 75% of key risk groups against influenza? Results from national surveys on seasonal influenza vaccination programmes, 2008/2009 to 2014/2015. Vaccine 2018. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2017.12.019