The number of vulnerable people getting free flu jabs in England is at an eight-year low, raising fears of an outbreak coinciding with a second wave of coronavirus.
Last winter just 45 per cent of people under 65 with serious health conditions, who are offered the vaccine for free on the NHS, received the jab.
This has tumbled from a peak of 52.3 per cent in the winter of 2013 and is the worst uptake since Public Health England's records began in 2012.
This year the Government is organising the biggest ever flu vaccination programme for the UK, pledging to offer them to 30million people, including everyone over the age of 50 and 11-year-olds.
Officials hope that covering more of the at-risk groups with a flu jab will mean fewer people get seriously ill with the winter virus, which will relieve pressure on hospitals that are expected to face a resurgence of Covid-19 cases.
But getting vaccinated against the flu is not compulsory and more than half of vulnerable adults currently do not take up the offer.
Coverage is better among the elderly, around three-quarters of whom get the vaccine, but the NHS also recommends it for pregnant women, diabetics, those with serious illnesses like heart disease, children and severely overweight people.
In Britain the flu vaccine is offered for free to people over the age of 65, under the age of 11, and to those with serious medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or severe asthma
Public Health England data shows that vaccine coverage in vulnerable categories under the age of 65 has fallen dramatically between 2012 and 2020.
In the winter of 2012-13, more than half of people (51.3 per cent) took up the offer of the free vaccine, and this peaked the next year at 52.3 per cent.
But since then, the number of vulnerable adults agreeing to have the jab has fallen to a low of 44.9 per cent in the winter of 2019-20.
Coverage among over-65s has also fallen slightly, although remains significantly higher than it is in the younger age groups.
Vaccine uptake among the elderly was at a peak of 73.4 per cent – three out of four people – in 2012-13.
But it has since dropped to 72.4 per cent, rebounding from a low of 70.5 per cent in 2016-17.
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Public Health England data for England only.
Thousands of people end up in hospital every year because of bad cases of flu, which can progress to pneumonia and kill people who already have weak immune systems.
In a bid to avoid this, and to protect the NHS while it prepares to deal with a second wave of coronavirus, the UK Government is this year hoping to scale up its flu jab programme to include a staggering 30million people - almost half the population.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has boasted officials 'have bought more flu