By Ian Quinn
Medical leaders have been accused of not taking the threat to young children from swine flu seriously enough, as time runs out for parents to have their under-fives vaccinated.
Professor Lindsay Davies, director of public health at NHS London, said she was ‘very worried’ that millions of children had been left exposed to future waves of the outbreak, with only a small proportion having had the vaccine so far.
She revealed in London, one of the worst hotspots for swine flu, only 13.5% of under fives have been vaccinated, with the vaccination campaign due to wind up at the end of March.
‘I’m very worried about the under-fives,’ said Professor Davies told a special session of the London Assembly health committee.
‘I’ve been really disappointed that there are some medical leaders within their own trusts who haven’t taken it more seriously.’
Pulse revealed last month that the Department of Health had decided to take the under-fives out of the at-risk groups for swine flu when flu vaccinations are carried out later in the year.
A vaccine against swine flu will be incorporated within seasonal flu jabs for other groups, although pregnant women will also be excluded from those routinely targeted.
Professor Davies said there were ‘really quite high hospital admission rates’ for children and said she feared a lack of urgency would come back to haunt the medical profession.
Take-up of the swine flu vaccine in England has been far lower than in other countries, especially for children. But GP leaders have claimed it would have been much higher if a national deal had been agreed with the DH, instead of cash-strapped trusts being left to negotiate with practices over vaccine delivery.
This led to many SHAs, including London, clamping down hard on any plans to provide extra flexibility over GP workload to enable better take-up.
Pulse revealed how NHS London stamped on agreements with PCTs in Richmond, Kingston and Croydon, which Sussex and Surrey LMCs claimed had agreed to concessions over extended hours.
Professor Davies said fears over the safety of the vaccine among the public and also frontline medical staff had contributed towards a lower-than-hoped-for uptake.
Asked if it would be made clear to patients that the new vaccine included a vaccine against swine flu, she said: ‘I don’t want to put people off, but I don’t want to be dishonest.’
Swine flu vaccine: millions of children left exposed Swine flu vaccine: millions of children left exposed