MORE than a third of the people eligible for free flu vaccines in Worcestershire did not take them up last winter, figures show.

The uptake rate among Worcestershire’s senior residents was better – but at 75 per cent, around 34,000 over-65s still went without.

Now doctors are urging people to protect themselves and their families from flu amid warnings that new cases may yet peak over the busy festive period.

NHS England data shows that 228,348 people were eligible for free flu vaccines in Worcestershire last winter – but only 65 per cent of them had one.

The low rate meant 79,388 vulnerable people were left unprotected in the area through the key winter months.

Professor Stephen Powis, the NHS’s national medical director, said: “Whether it’s missing out on your Christmas dinner, the Boxing Day match or a New Year’s party, nobody wants to be laid low by flu while the festivities are in full swing.

“For older people and those with underlying health conditions, getting flu is particularly bad news because it can lead to really serious conditions like pneumonia and bronchitis, which can mean a lengthy stay in hospital.

“And we know that children are super spreaders of flu, particularly around the holiday season when they’re more likely to see elderly relatives.

"So our message is simple: the flu season is here, get your jab now. It might be the difference between a Christmas to remember, and one to forget.”

While the flu virus can be unpleasant for anyone, if sufferers are otherwise healthy it usually clears up without treatment within a week.

However, for certain groups of people such as the elderly, the very young, pregnant women and people with other health conditions, it can be serious and even cause death.