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Increasing vaccination to help relieve winter pressures

Dr Gillian Ellsbury
Medical Director for Vaccines, Pfizer UK & Ireland

31 July 2020

The UK Government has taken a positive step towards creating a healthier and more resilient Britain.


By extending the annual flu programme and making more people eligible for the flu vaccine free of charge,1 it has signalled the importance of keeping people well, not just making them better. 

Inevitably, there will be obstacles to overcome in implementing such a significant expansion of the UK’s immunisation programme at pace. But that shouldn’t dissuade us from grasping a much wider opportunity to protect our precious NHS resources this, and every, winter.

Many of the UK’s most vulnerable adults are eligible for a range of vaccinations against infectious diseases – from pneumonia, to shingles, to whooping cough for pregnant women.2 But we are currently failing to realise the true value of these vaccinations, with uptake falling below what it could be.3

Unlocking the full potential of vaccination is an opportunity too important to miss. By ensuring more people take advantage of the vaccines they are eligible for, we can help protect millions of people – including our most vulnerable, such as the elderly, those living with underlying health conditions and pregnant women – to try and make sure our health system is better equipped to deal with a potential second wave of COVID-19.

Boosting vaccination rates now will help keep our population healthy and well – reducing the need for medical intervention and hospital admissions, as well as alleviating the pressure on our hardworking NHS.

In the last year in England, just 1 in 10 (12.9%) 65 year olds were immunised against pneumonia.4 For younger people in ‘at risk’ groups, uptake rates were as low as 1 in 4 for patients with illnesses such as chronic liver disease.4 And while those over 70 are eligible for vaccination against shingles, by the age of 76, around 1 in 4 are still unvaccinated.5 Even in the case of flu, many of those who were eligible last year failed to get vaccinated, including less than half of those in ‘higher risk’ groups, from people with health conditions to pregnant women.6

Already, we have seen reports that the public is reluctant to engage with the NHS, whether through an altruistic desire not to add to the strain on the health service or through a fear of potentially coming into contact with SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19.7 At the same time, patients, now more than ever, are switched on to what ‘being healthy’ means and want to be empowered to make choices. COVID-19 has also shown there is appetite for innovative delivery of healthcare.8

And so, we are going to have to work together, industry, Government and the NHS, to encourage people to take advantage of the full range of vaccines available to help keep them well – and to offer them in locations that avoid overloading our GP surgeries and assist in overcoming any potential fears. We also need a joined-up effort to continue to dispel the unfounded myths and false claims about vaccines found online.

The people of the UK need to know that getting vaccinated is one of the simplest and safest ways to stay healthy this winter. And we need to make it as easy as possible to deliver vaccinations – using local pharmacies, drive-through centres and digital healthcare apps to create an immunisation programme fit for the modern age. This will set us in good stead not only for anticipated COVID-19 vaccines but also help us continue to make the most of the wide range of vaccinations already available to us.

The message is simple. A population better protected from disease is within our reach. Where appropriate, we need to take advantage of every vaccine, including but not limited to flu. Boosting vaccination rates now will help keep our population healthy and well – reducing the need for medical intervention and hospital admissions, as well as alleviating the pressure on our hardworking NHS.


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  1. DHSC press release. Available at: [Last accessed July 2020]
  2. NHS. Vaccinations. Available at: [Last accessed July 2020]
  3. BMA. Action to improve immunisation coverage rates across the UK. Available at: [Last accessed July 2020]
  4. Public Health England. Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine (PPV) coverage report, England, April 2019 to March 2020. Available at: [Last accessed July 2020]
  5. Public Health England. Shingles (quarter 3) vaccine coverage report (adults eligible from April to December 2019 and vaccinated to end-March 2020) in England. Available at: [Last accessed July 2020]
  6. Public Health England. Seasonal influenza vaccine uptake in GP patients: winter season 2019 to 2020. Available at: [Last accessed July 2020]
  7. NHS Digital. Appointments in General Practice - April 2020. Available at: [Last accessed July 2020]
  8. NHS Confederation press release. Innovation and learning must remain at the heart of health and care following COVID-19. Available at: [Last accessed July 2020]


PP-VAC-GBR-1556 / August 2020