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Columnists: Andy Jones

Oh no – not again!

I hear that deliveries of this year's winter flu vaccines are behind schedule. So what's new? The same thing happened last year. The same thing happened the year before.

Last year GPs were accused of wasting vaccines by administering them to the worried well. It transpired that the Department of Health had got its facts wrong and that its maths was to blame, not GPs squandering valuable resources.

In 2004 Chiron, the second largest of six flu vaccine suppliers, had its licence suspended for three months due to production problems at its Liverpool plant causing a 20 per cemt vaccine shortfall in the northern hemisphere!

This year, as bad luck will have it, the warning of delays coincides with the start of a national advertising campaign reminding people at risk to get their flu jab. So around 15 million people will be urged to book their appointments or pop into the surgery. Apparently insiders have known for some time that there would be supply problems this year. But nothing was done about it.

The eternally optimistic director of immunisations at the Department of Health, Dr David Salisbury, has written to us: 'While the overall national picture is more positive than we had first thought, the initial delay in production means that delivery of vaccine will be spread over a longer period.' With about 1.5 million vaccines missing, indeed it will!

Cold weather kills on average up to 20,000 people a year in the UK, a figure that can easily double in bad winters. I would argue that the reason we haven't seen a winter bed crisis for some time is because of the highly efficient and resourceful work GPs have put in under difficult circumstances.

And another thing to bear in mind if we want to prevent an epidemic: last year everyone was so worried about bird flu that patients queued up literally in their thousands. But there will be times when there are no such scares. That's when a good advertising campaign is necessary.

To conclude: we need to ram home forcefully and effectively the dangers of flu. And we need to have the vaccines on hand for when patients get the message.

Dr Andy Jones is a GP in Stamford, Lincolnshire

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