By Ian Quinn
Fewer than one in 10 children under five have been vaccinated against swine flu, according to figures released by the Government which show the second phase of the outbreak is all but over.
The Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson announced just 214,000 healthy children aged 6 months to under 5 years in England have been given the vaccine, out of more than three million in the category.
And new cases of swine flu in England have fallen to their lowest level since the early stages of the first outbreak.
Pulse revealed last week that GP practices face losses of thousands of pounds through not hitting the target of vaccinating 50.7% of their clinically at-risk patients aged between five and 65 in the first set of priority groups. GPs who hit the target will see thresholds in the national patient access survey lowered.
And the tiny uptake among children under five, to whom the vaccination campaign was extended before Christmas, appears to vindicate GP leaders’ reluctance to sign up to a national deal linking pay to the under fives’ vaccination.
A Pulse survey last month found 56% of GPs thought that the Government’s extension of the swine flu vaccination campaign to all children under the age of five was not ‘a good use of healthcare resources’.
GPs in some areas have faced an extraordinary battle to agree local plans for vaccination of children under five, with concessions on access made by PCTs repeatedly overruled by senior NHS managers.
Some local schemes have been slow to get off the ground, with the programme in NHS South West Essex only starting this week.
But GPs appear to have their work cut out to convince millions of parents to bring their children forward, with many having been put off by fears over the vaccine’s safety.
Enthusiasm for the vaccination campaign has also waned as the swine flu outbreak has failed to hit with anything like the severity many had feared.
There are currently 211 patients in hospital with swine flu in England, 62 of whom are in critical care, but the Health Protection Agency’s overall estimate of the number of new cases in the past week remains below 5,000, where it has been for the last three weeks.
TheGovernment is still urging parents to come forward and has warned that the virus will return later in the year and remains a killer.
Sir Liam said: ‘Levels of pandemic flu are currently very low, virtually concluding the second wave of the infection in this country.’
‘Although throughout it has not been a severe illness for most people, children and younger adults have developed serious complications, been admitted to hospital and some have died.’
‘When the virus returns in the 2010 flu season those who develop complications or die will be doing so from a vaccine preventable disease.’
‘I strongly advise that those eligible for the vaccine who have not yet had it, get the jab and protect themselves.’
Dr Katherine Gronqvist, Director of Public Health at NHS South West Essex, said: ‘We know that swine flu disproportionately affects younger people especially children, which is why they are being offered the vaccine. I encourage every parent whose child is offered the vaccine to take it up to ensure their child has the best protection against this virus.’
Swine flu vaccine has been given to fewer than one in 10 children under five Swine flu vaccine has been given to fewer than one in 10 children under five