GPs have warned that thousands of people in England could be putting their health at risk by failing to visit their doctor or pharmacist for a seasonal influenza vaccination.
Figures released by the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) showed that the number of flu jabs administered this year is six per cent lower than at the same time last year.
Flu vaccinations are particularly important for 'at-risk' groups like older people, pregnant women and people with learning disabilities, as well as individuals with long-term health conditions like heart, liver and kidney disease, diabetes and respiratory problems.
They are generally administered within GP practices but can also be delivered by pharmacists and other health professionals.
Despite the benefits of the jab, some family doctors revealed that their surgery fridges are full of unused vaccines because of the decline in patients reporting to receive them.
The figures showed that practices across England are vaccinating more than 100 fewer patients on average than a year ago.
One of the potential reasons for this is the unusually mild weather for this time of year, which does not necessarily mean a lower risk of flu outbreaks, the RCGP warned.
Professor Simon de Lusignan, director of the RCGP Research and Surveillance Centre and a GP in Guildford, Surrey, said another potential factor is doubt over the effectiveness of the vaccine.
He pointed out that the overall efficacy of the jab was "reasonable" last year and patients are "much better protected by having it".
RCGP chair and emergency planning expert Dr Maureen Baker said the decline in uptake of the flu vaccine was "extremely alarming".
She added: "We urge patients not to shun the reminders they receive from the GP surgery and to have their vaccination as a priority. It provides valuable protection and plays a key role in keeping vulnerable people as healthy as possible through the winter."