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GPC concern as patients snub swine flu vaccination campaign

By Lilian Anekwe

GP leaders have admitted to growing concern over a draining of enthusiasm for the swine flu vaccination programme, with figures showing it is being widely snubbed by patients and healthcare workers alike.

Practices are struggling to persuade patients in at-risk groups to come forward after a ‘striking reduction' in the number of cases and the revelation many children have already had the virus without even knowing it.

Some 11.7m of the Government's stockpile of 18m doses have so far been delivered to GP practices since the first batches were sent out on 26 October.

But of those, only 1.6 million doses have been given to the 9m patients in at-risk groups, putting uptake at only 18% - far lower than comparable figures for a month into the seasonal flu campaign.

And the Department of Health estimates just 275,000 frontline health and social care workers have had the vaccine – 14% of the 2m eligible. Separate figures for GPs are not yet available.

There are concerns many patients are losing enthusiasm for the swine flu campaign as the number of cases drops – with a 52% fall last week – and evidence grows of how mild the illness is for most patients.

The Health Protection Agency released serological data showing nearly one child in three in some parts of the UK - and between 15% and 20% across the country - have already been infected, in many cases with no symptoms.

Dr Peter Holden, GPC negotiator on swine flu, said: ‘The prevalence is falling like a stone. The trouble is people are seeing it as a very mild illness, which it is. But those who get it badly are getting it very badly indeed.'

Professor David Price, professor of primary care respiratory medicine at the University of Aberdeen and a Government advisor on respiratory disease, said: 'It is a worry uptake is low, as this is a virulent respiratory virus and data from Australia shows H1N1 is likely to overwhelm other flu viruses, and effectively be our seasonal flu for the next four of five years.

‘It's important people in at-risk groups are vaccinated, especially the immunocompromised as they are more prone to resistance to antivirals.'

Dr Holden said the low uptake among healthcare workers was a concern. ‘In Scotland uptake among healthcare professionals is quite good. In England I understand it is not good - less than 20% - which is a worry.'

But he insisted uptake among GPs was high. ‘I've not come across a GP who hasn't had it. GPs understand the risks a novel vaccine has. It's other healthcare professionals that seem not to want it.'

He also claimed GPs were on course to complete the first phase of the programme before the DH's end-of-December deadline, although minutes from the last GPC meeting suggest it will not be completed until the middle of January.

There has so far been low uptake of the swine flu vaccine among patients and healthcare professionals alike There has so far been low uptake of the swine flu vaccine among patients and healthcare professionals alike

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