By Lilian Anekwe
The Government has been forced to reinstate its flu publicity campaign as the number of cases continued to rise over the Christmas and New Year period.
GP leaders had issued pleas to health secretary Andrew Lansley to reinvest money in the nationwide publicity campaign, which had been cancelled after the Department of Health cut back on its marketing and advertising budget.
The GPC blamed the failure to run a campaign for poor rates of uptake of the flu vaccine, which currently stands out 68.5% in those aged over 65 and 43.0% for those under 65 in clinical risk groups, according to data from the Health Protection Agency.
The weekly rate of influenza-like illness in England now stands at 124.4 per 100,000.
But Mr Lansley insisted he had not been forced to backtrack on his decision, and that the new campaign – based around the Catch It, Kill It, Bin It campaign launched during last year’s swine flu vaccination campaign – was merely aimed at highlighting good hygiene and GPs should continue to encourage people to be vaccinated as ‘the first line of defence against flu’.
Shadow health secretary John Healey weighed into the row by calling on the Government to widen the groups for flu vaccination to include children under five, amid concerns that a new surge of flu cases could be seen when children return to school and nurseries.
But shadow health minister Simon Burns rejected the appeals, which he claimed would mean the government would have to ‘ignore scientific advice’ from experts on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
‘Labour have stooped to a new low of political opportunism. By calling on the Government to reject independent scientific advice, they risk undermining the public confidence in immunisation programmes which is so crucial to their success.
‘John Healey is either spectacularly ill-informed or playing politics with people’s health. He should either apologise or be ashamed.’
Flu advertising campaign