Swine flu jab being snubbed, warn GPs

MANY people in Suffolk who are vulnerable to contracting swine flu are unwisely snubbing the vaccination, it has been warned.

Naomi Cassidy

MANY people in Suffolk who are vulnerable to contracting swine flu are unwisely snubbing the vaccination, it has been warned.

As the number of reported cases drops and the profile of the virus falls, some doctors say it has become harder to get those at high risk of catching it to have the jab.

This, they warn, could lead to problems if the virus returns later this year.

Health chiefs are continuing to roll ahead with their vaccination programme to protect those most at risk, which includes pregnant women, children under five and those with chronic respiratory disease.

While there are no specific figures available for the number of people who have had the vaccination in Suffolk, anecdotally there have been widespread reports of people snubbing it.

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Geoff Reason, chief executive of Suffolk's Local Medical Committee, who speaks on behalf of GPs, said: “According to GPs, it is proving quite difficult to get people to come for the vaccinations.

“The arrangements to have the vaccinations for vulnerable groups and under-fives are quite strong.

“People [GPs] are concerned that if the disease reoccurs, we are behind with the [vaccination] programme. The message from the GP community is there are still good reasons for people to be vaccinated.”

Dr Linda Sheridan, director of Flu Resilience for NHS East of England, said the initial phase of the vaccination programme had gone well in the region.

But she added: “Whilst the number of swine flu cases reported in the east of England is continuing to decline, the swine flu virus is likely to remain the predominant flu virus for the next three to four years.

“And while some people may have already had the virus and will be immune, the majority of population remain susceptible to it. It is for this reason that we are urging those eligible to have the vaccine to get it to ensure they are protected.”

So far nationally 373,000 doses of the vaccine have been given to healthcare workers, 113,000 doses to pregnant women, 3.2 million doses to other priority groups and 86,000 doses to children aged 6 months to five years.

Since swine flu was first reported in April 2009 there have been 360 deaths across the UK.

Doctors in the Waveney area reiterated assurances to parents at the weekend that the vaccination is safe and available for all children aged six months to five years.

Dr Tim Morton, a GP at Beccles Medical Centre, said: “Most parents have realised that this is a safe well-tested vaccine and children are most vulnerable to this particular virus.

“The swine flu pandemic fortunately hasn't been as bad as first feared but has resulted in a few deaths and many hospital admissions in this age group and the virus is likely to circulate in the community for many months if not years - so it would seem prudent and sensible to offer protection to this age group.”

If you think you have swine flu, call the National Pandemic Flu Service on 0800 1513513 or www.direct.gov.uk/pandemicflu.

The priority groups for the vaccine are:

- People aged between six months and 65 years in the current seasonal flu vaccine clinical at-risk groups (eg. those with chronic respiratory, heart, kidney, liver or neurological disease).

- Pregnant women.

- People who live with those whose immune systems are compromised - such as cancer patients.

- People aged 65 and over in the current seasonal flu vaccine clinical at-risk groups. This does not include otherwise healthy over 65s, since they appear to have some natural immunity to the virus.

- Children aged six months to five years.