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A pig's ear of a vaccine campaign

Many GPs still have no idea when they will have supplies of swine flu vaccine, and there are real questions over whether the immunisation campaign will do its job

By Richard Hoey

Many GPs still have no idea when they will have supplies of swine flu vaccine, and there are real questions over whether the immunisation campaign will do its job

It's a bit of a shambles, this swine flu vaccination campaign, isn't it?

Back in August, Pulse reported that the vaccination campaign wasnt about to start any time soon.

We quoted the GPC's Dr Peter Holden as predicting a delay of ‘at least six weeks' – taking us to mid-October – and were disowned by the BMA and roundly criticised by the Government for doing so.

Nowadays, though, the idea that the vaccine campaign could ever have been ready for mid-October seems some ridiculous, feverish fantasy. Mid-November is looking a tough ask. Mid-December isn't a lock-down.

Pulse was told by a series of GPs early this week that they'd still not received their initial batches of the vaccine.

We didn't make a lot of it in this week's issue, on the grounds that in the two days between the magazine going to press and it arriving on GPs' doormats, there was every chance that supplies might have arrived.

And swine might fly.

A few days later, and it's already clear the vaccine campaign is descending into chaos, with many GPs still having no idea when their stock is going to turn up, and therefore no idea when they can even start inviting patients in for vaccination.

The Department of Health might want to consider a basic tenet of immunisation - it does help to be vaccinated before you are infected with an illness.

Of course, there were legitimate questions over whether this was a vaccination campaign worth running, given the generally mild, self-limiting nature of the illness.

Australia has just battled through a winter of swine flu without a vaccine, and yes, it was nasty at times, and the rate of hospitalisation appeared to be higher than over the UK summer, but the number of deaths remained small.

But given we did go for the immunisation option, the next question has to be will it achieve what I believe should be its number one priority – to prevent kids and young people from dying (something, in normal circumstances, they don't tend to do very often).

A Department of Health study found four-fifths of children hospitalised had no underlying conditions, and new data suggests a third of all patients in the UK who have died of swine flu would have fallen outside the vaccine priority groups.

Pulse reported a couple of weeks ago that the Government's expert advisers were going to look again at the risk groups for vaccination – and the latest news is that they are still looking.

By the time they make up their minds, this swine flu season is likely to be in full swing, for better or for worse.

By Richard Hoey, Pulse editor

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