Barely half the people in “at risk” groups signed up for the flu jab in the Lothians last year.
Figures published as Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon launched the Scottish Government’s campaign to encourage vaccination this year showed that only 55.3 per cent of those deemed most in need of protection were immunised last winter – below the Scottish average of 56.1 per cent.
In addition to people over 65, who all qualify for the vaccine, health chiefs said more than 80,000 in Lothian fell into the at-risk groups – people with long-term medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis and other heart, lung and liver diseases, pregnant women, unpaid carers, and NHS workers who deal directly with patients.
Launching Scottish Flu Awareness Week, Ms Sturgeon said: “For those at risk, the complications of seasonal flu can be deadly.
“Last year, more people than ever before were vaccinated in Scotland, but tragically we know that 63 people died in hospital with flu – many more are likely to have died in the community.
“If you know someone who is at risk, please encourage them to get the vaccination as soon as possible.”
Vaccine uptake figures from 2010/11, provided by GP practices, show that of the estimated 80,524 people in all at-risk groups in the NHS Lothian area eligible for the flu jab, 55.3 per cent took up the offer.
In addition, 76.8 per cent of the 122,251 people aged over 65 in the NHS Lothian area were vaccinated last year.
Ms Sturgeon said it was important that pregnant women got the jab.
She said: “We know they are more likely to suffer serious complications if they catch flu because of changes to their immune system.
“The vaccine is safe and effective and midwives across the country will be working to ensure that all pregnant women know about the dangers of flu.”
She said only an estimated 26 per cent of NHS front-line staff were vaccinated during last year’s flu season.
Dr Alison McCallum, NHS Lothian director of public health, said: “Getting vaccinated against flu is the best way to protect yourself and others from the virus.
“Flu strikes suddenly and can be a severe illness. If you are in one of the at-risk groups, then the impact of flu can be even more serious, with symptoms hitting you harder and lasting longer. You could end up in hospital, or contract pneumonia or bronchitis.
“I strongly urge anyone who is in one of the at-risk groups to make an appointment with their GP to get the free jab.
“It only takes a few minutes to be vaccinated but will give you protection against the flu for around a year. Don’t make the mistake that you think you’re immune, nobody is and the potential consequences mean it’s not worth the risk.”
For those who don’t know if they’re eligible for the free jab or are worried about its effects, experts will be available at the Don’t Let Flu Turn On You tour, which will be at the Gyle shopping centre on Thursday between 10am and noon.