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GPs braced to miss swine flu target

By Gareth Iacobucci

Exclusive: GPs fear they are almost certain to fall short of the Government's target for swine flu vaccination, with practices across the country reporting widespread resistance from patients to taking up the vaccine.

Practices are expected to vaccinate at least half of all patients under 65 in clinical at-risk groups against swine flu during this winter's campaign, to qualify for reduced thresholds on QOF access targets.

But a Pulse snapshot survey of just over 100 GPs finds the lukewarm response from patients makes it unlikely the 50.7% target – for patients in high-risk groups aged between six months and 65 years – will be reached by many practices.

The resistance from patients to being immunised is exacerbated by serious problems with vaccine supplies, with some larger practices warning they are already running out just a few days into the campaign.

Only 37% of GPs believe the Government's 50.7% target will be achievable, based on their experience so far of supplies and the reaction of patients.

Just under half of practices said they hadn't yet started the vaccination campaign. Those who had estimated a little under half of patients approached were saying yes to the vaccine.

Dr Gary Calver, a GP in Folkestone, Kent, said: ‘A number of patients were very negative about having swine flu vaccination. It's going to be extremely difficult to meet targets.'

Dr Mansukh Shah, a GP in north-west London, told a similar story. ‘I think the target of 50.7% will be difficult to achieve. Quite a few patients are reluctant.'

Some GPs warned patients were concerned over thiosermal in the vaccine and the risk of side-effects – which practice staff report as headaches, sleeplessness and stomach cramps.

Dr Ian Pace, a GP in Bourne, Lincolnshire, said: ‘We start tomorrow but with only 500 vaccines available to us there is not a cat's chance in hell of vaccinating all the target group. Vaccine availability and supply is unreliable so we are unable to adequately plan a campaign.'

Each practice in England and Wales, regardless of size, was due to receive an initial delivery of 500 doses of the vaccine, with GPs able to order further deliveries from mid-November.

But many GPs said they had met with big delays in receiving the vaccine, which they feared would hamper their chances of meeting the target.

And large practices said they had insufficient doses of vaccine to go round – with some forced to put their vaccination campaigns on hold.

Dr Toby Davies, a GP in Tidworth, Wiltshire, said his practice had received its initial 500 doses last week, and was already running low.

‘We're irritated that small practices received the same number of vials as large practices. We cannot order any more until 16 November and are told deliveries will take one to two weeks from that date. We have had to delay our programme.'

Swine flu vaccine

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