An ineffective flu jab had led to the biggest spike in deaths since the 1960s, the Office for National Statistics says.

Each year, the World Health Organisation decides which strains of influenza are in circulation. A vaccine is then created to match the main strain in the Northern Hemisphere.

Last year the main strain mutated unexpectedly, but it was too late to change the flu jab.

Consequently the vaccine only protected one in three patients against the flu, as opposed to the 50% success rate it usually enjoys.

Public Health England has admitted that the unexpected mutation caused a rise in deaths.

This has been confirmed by the Office for National Statistics, which says that an extra 28,189 people died last year – a 5.6% increase from 2014.

That makes it the largest percentage increase since 1968, and the biggest number of deaths since 2003. The rise is so big that it has lowered the life expectancy of babies born in 2015.

It is also estimated that last winter there were 16,415 ‘excess deaths’, meaning the number of deaths above what would normally be expected. The previous year there were just 577.

The majority of excess deaths in 2015, which totalled 24,000 for the whole year, were people over the age of 75 – with many dying from flu or dementia.

Dr Richard Pebody, Public Health England’s head of flu surveillance, said: “In any flu season dominated by an H3 subtype, unfortunately we can expect the burden of illness to be seen particularly in the elderly, including increased levels of excess mortality, even in a season where the vaccine is well matched to the circulating strains.”

“Although in most winters, the vaccine is well matched, winter 2014/15 saw the circulation of a drifted H3 flu strain, making the vaccine less effective than the typical 50 per cent we had seen in recent previous years.”

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