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GPC blames low flu vaccine uptake on Government marketing cutbacks – and warns of looming ‘crisis’

By Ian Quinn, Lilian Anekwe

The GPC has warned of a looming flu 'crisis' and claimed Government cutbacks in marketing have led to a dangerously low uptake of the seasonal flu vaccine among patients.

The committee claimed that soaring numbers of flu cases in the last few days were an indication of a second crisis in two years following last year's swine flu epidemic, with H1N1 also believed to be the variant behind many of the cases this year.

The GPC has now written to the Department of Health's director of immunisation Professor David Salisbury, calling on the Government to reverse its decision to slash spending on the immunisation campaign.

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘We want to tell the Department to step up a gear in terms of publicity. Many practices are reporting they are having great difficulty encouraging patients to be immunised. There is still some misinformation about swine flu, despite the fact that the vaccine has been extremely thoroughly tested.'

‘If there's anything that's going to jeopardise the Governemnt's savings plan, it's going to be a big flu outbreak.'

'The marketing was subjected to cutbacks but now there is clearly a crisis brewing and it's only going to get worse as winter progresses.'

This week the Health Protection Agency announced 17 people with flu across the UK have died since the flu season began in October. At least half of those who have died were in a clinical ‘at risk' group for vaccination. Of the 14 patients whose vaccination status is known, none had received this year's seasonal vaccine.

The latest HPA flu report published today shows the GP consultation rate for influenza-like illness in England rose to the above baseline activity level of 34.6 per 100,000 in the week ending 12 December, up from 13.3 per 100,000 for England in the previous week.

In the week ending 5 December, the proportion of people in England aged over 65 years who had received the 2010/11 influenza vaccine was 67.2%. For those in an at-risk group, including pregnant women, the figure was 41.6%.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: 'The number of people in the over-65 age group who have had the vaccine is just behind last year and in the under-65s group we are about 5% behind.'

'Our flu vaccine uptake is still good and better than most countries in Europe. We are encouraging everyone in an at-risk group to have the vaccine - it's the best way to protect ourselves from flu. If you are not sure if you need the vaccine, contact your GP.'

The GPC has blamed a low flu vaccination uptake on Government marketing cutbacks The GPC has blamed a low flu vaccination uptake on Government marketing cutbacks