Netherlands only country where coverage is at recommended level, says WHO
The majority of countries in Europe are lagging far behind the recommended uptake for influenza vaccine in at-risk groups.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), of the countries where data was available only the Netherlands managed to ensure more than 75 per cent of its elderly population had adequate flu protection.
Countries almost at the 75 per cent target included the UK, Spain, Italy and Belgium, but right at the other end of the scale were Poland, Lithuania and Estonia, all of which had less than 20 per cent coverage.
This is despite a very real problem regarding influenza in the elderly, with 90 per cent of deaths related to seasonal influenza estimated to occur among those aged over 65. Flu is also likely to be more severe in older people and this population takes longer to recover.
In addition to its guidance for the elderly, the WHO also recommends pregnant women, people with chronic medical conditions, residents of institutions for disabled people, healthcare workers and small children should be offered the seasonal influenza vaccine.
However, national recommendations for these groups vary widely, and data is far more limited than in the elderly where 94 per cent of European countries have set levels to aim for.
This lack of national recommendations is a contributing factor to the low uptake, according to the WHO, along with lack of knowledge and poor access for some groups to the vaccine.
To overcome this, the WHO wants national vaccine recommendations to be reviewed and potentially include pregnant woman and a cost-benefit assessment of flu vaccination programmes carried out to highlight its economic positives.
The WHO said risk groups should be prioritised in locations with limited access to vaccines, but acknowledged it needs to work with member states to improve public perception of the flu vaccine.