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GPs set for bird flu vaccine

GPs are likely to receive preventive vaccination against H5N1 as soon as evidence emerges that pandemic flu is spreading among humans, writes Lilian Anekwe.

The Government's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has ruled in favour of exploring plans for 'pre-pandemic vaccination'.

Such a vaccine programme would be targeted at 'significant sections of the population', which could include GPs, GP surgery staff and other frontline NHS workers.

Dr Doug Fleming, director of the RCGP Birmingham research unit and member of the JCVI's influenza subgroup, said: 'If we have evidence the [H5N1] virus is changing and spreading between humans, we will pull out all the stops.'

Plans to discuss pre-pandemic vaccination were revealed this week when the minutes of a meeting held last June were published online.

Professor John Oxford, formerly the Government's leading adviser on influenza, said: 'I would very much favour vaccination of special groups in the community. Recent scientific evidence shows even generic H5N1 vaccines produce a broad immunological response.'

Professor Oxford, who is professor of virology at Queen Mary University of London, added: 'The evidence is in favour of stockpiling [H5N1 viral vaccine] and it would seem that the committee agrees with that.'

GPs would be likely to be

included in the first wave of

vaccinations if the H5N1 virus became transmissible between humans.

'GPs, NHS workers and those working in accident and emergency departments are all people on the frontline of the war against H5N1,' said Professor Oxford.

The JCVI reconvenes in

October to further discuss the issues surrounding a pre-pandemic vaccination programme, which Professor Oxford said could be initiated 'at the first sign of an outbreak'.

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