Flu jab rates for groups at higher risk from the virus were below target in Bolton last year.

Free flu vaccinations will be offered to millions more people this year as the government aims to take the immunisation programme to the highest level yet.

However, experts say achieving the new goals will be a major challenge, as uptake rates are already falling below target.

Figures from Public Health England show that just 47.3 per cent of clinically "at risk" people in Bolton had the vaccine between September and February last year – below the target of 55 per cent.

The group includes those aged between six months and 64 years old with serious diseases, the severely obese and people with learning disabilities who are at greater risk of developing serious complications if they catch flu.

People aged 65 or over are also entitled to a free vaccine, with 74.3 per cent of this group in the borough getting the vaccine, slightly below the three quarters target.

This year, the Government wants to expand the programme to include those shielding from the coronavirus and members of their household, health and social care workers, and later to all those aged 50 or over.

It says this could amount to more than 30 million people including existing target groups – double the number of shots recorded in Public Health England’s 2019-20 flu report.

The chief medical officer Chris Whitty has asked health professionals for a “concerted effort” to achieve at least 75.0% uptake across all eligible groups.

Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, believes “the very real threat of a second wave” of the coronavirus makes this year’s flu programme more important than ever.

He said: “The additional number of patients and ongoing circulation of Covid-19 will be a major challenge for GPs and practices who will be delivering this year’s programme with social distancing measures in place.”

Professor Marshall also believes it is essential for GPs to have adequate supplies of PPE, access to testing, and staff to cope with the new pressures.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We already have some of the best flu vaccine uptake rates in Europe, but this winter more than ever it is vital that everybody eligible gets their flu vaccine to protect themselves and support the NHS and social care.

“The Health Secretary has outlined plans for the biggest flu vaccine programme in UK history and healthcare staff will work to vaccinate more than 30 million people, millions more than received it last year."