HUNDREDS of thousands of people eligible for free flu vaccines in Essex did not take them up last winter, new figures have revealed.

Doctors are urging people to protect themselves and their families from flu amid warnings new cases were expected to peak over the busy new year period.

NHS England data shows that 512,163 people were eligible for free flu vaccines in Essex last winter – but only 59 per cent of them had one.

The low rate meant 208,667 vulnerable people were left unprotected in the area through the key winter months.

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

The NHS offers free flu vaccines to all these groups due to their increased vulnerability.

The figures show that toddlers were much less likely to have had the jab than their older neighbours in Essex, with parents taking only 50 per cent of two-year-olds and of children aged three for the vaccinations.

The uptake rate among Essex’s senior residents was better at 69 per cent, however around 94,000 over 65s still went without.

Just 41 per cent of pregnant women received the vaccine, and 44 per cent of under 65s with health conditions which put them at heightened risk.

Colchester GP Dr Hasan Chowhan urged people to get their flu vaccine.

Dr Chowhan, who is also chairman of NHS North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “There are some quick and simple actions you can take which represent the foundations of good winter health care.

“If you are in an at-risk group make sure you have a flu vaccination. Keep a supply of basic medicines at home so you can deal with minor illness.”

Professor Stephen Powis, the NHS’s national medical director, said: “It’s good to see more people over the age of 65 have already got their jab. For older people and those with underlying health conditions, getting flu can lead to really serious conditions like pneumonia and bronchitis.”