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GPs to get four months to give 70 Hib boosters

The Government has ordered GPs to give every child under four in England a booster vaccination against Haemophilus influenzae b (Hib) as part of a campaign to quash a surge in infection rates.

The catch-up campaign will be launched in April or May, with GPs given four months to complete the vaccinations.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Liam Donaldson

estimates that each GP will have to vaccinate around 70 children.

Details of how GPs will be paid are likely to be kept under wraps until GPs vote on the new contract.

As revealed in Pulse last month, the campaign is a response to concerns voiced by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation that the protection given by the primary course of Hib vaccine wears off over time.

Latest figures from the Public Health Laboratory Service show rates of Hib infection in under-fives have risen four-fold from 0.68 per 100,000 in 1998 to 2.81 in 2001.

The JCVI is reviewing the possibility of adding a routine Hib booster dose to the childhood immunisation schedule.

Sir Liam is calling on practices to begin identifying children who will be six months to four years old on April 1 and to prepare invitations for a monovalent Hib booster.

But he urged GPs not to place orders for additional Hib vaccine until guidance is issued on vaccine delivery schedules.

Sir Liam said: 'Over the last 10 years this vaccination has prevented about 7,300 cases of Hib disease and approximately 270 deaths in children aged under four.

'We will be working closely with health professionals to finalise plans for the programme and parents will be invited to bring their children for immunisation in the same way as other childhood vaccines.'

He also urged GPs to be alert to the possibility of diseases associated with Hib such as meningitis and epiglottitis.

Dr George Kassianos, a GP in Bracknell, Berkshire, and RCGP spokesman on immunisation, said four months was a tight target to complete vaccinations and GPs would need proper resources.

He said: 'On the face of it, with all the children involved and the need to call them in, four months seems like quite a short time. But UK primary care has shown time and time again that when we get some help and adequate payment then we can achieve good uptake and meet targets.'

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