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Over by Christmas? No, this vaccination campaign looks set to run and run...

The swine flu vaccination campaign was always going to be a big ask – but now the full scale of the challenge is becoming clear

By Steve Nowottny

The swine flu vaccination campaign was always going to be a big ask – but now the full scale of the challenge is becoming clear

Back in mid-October, GPC negotiator Dr Peter Holden's claim that, all other things being equal, ‘most practices should have this wrapped up by Christmas' was a bold prediction. And all other things have not been equal.

First, there was the one-size fits rollout of the initial delivery of the vaccine - 500 doses per practice, no matter what its list size – which left larger practices short almost as soon as their campaign had got underway.

Then there was the extension of the campaign to cover all healthy children under the age of five. Given that the GPC and Department of Health are still apparently yet to decide how this extra workload will be funded, it's fair to say that stage of the vaccination campaign is still some way off.

And the biggest confounding factor of all, of course, is growing apathy. The Health Protection Agency's startling finding that between 15% and 20% of all children across the country have already been infected with swine flu – with it in many cases being so mild they never even knew it – certainly made doctors question the point of getting the jab. Patients, in fact, may be less bothered about virological sampling, and more impressed by the number of their friends and acquaintances who've had it and ‘it was like a cold really'.

Either way, convincing people of the need to be vaccinated against what is generally seen as a mild illness – thousands of hospitalisations and an estimated 270 deaths not withstanding - is proving an uphill struggle.

Vaccinating 1.6 million people is a start, of course, but Pulse's survey last month which found just 37% of GPs think the Government's 50.7% uptake target is achievable is looking increasingly on the money.

And perhaps most significant is the fact that so far only about 14% of the healthcare professionals eligible for the vaccine appear to have had the jab. Yes, as the Government points out, that's double the seasonal flu uptake – but it's hardly going to convince patients of the need to have it themselves.

But despite the low uptake and niggling doubts over its necessity, don't expect the vaccination campaign to be abandoned any time soon. Too much political – and financial – capital has been invested in it for that.

The GPC is now predicting that the first phase of the vaccination campaign will take until mid January at least, and only then will vaccination of the under fives begin. This one's going to keep GPs busy for a while yet.

By Steve Nowottny

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