Friday, January 7, 2011

GPs turn to old swine flu vaccine as seasonal flu death toll hits 50

Last winter's swine flu vaccine stock used in attempt to beat shortages but ministers are slow to act, says LabourGPs have begun giving patients doses of last year's swine flu vaccine to try to overcome the shortage of seasonal flu vaccines, as the death count from this winter's outbreak rises to 50 people.The Department of Health approved the move today, and Labour claimed that that was further evidence of ministers being "slow to act at every stage" as the threat posed by flu escalated.Coming a week after it was forced to reinstate a national advertising campaign on good hygiene, it is the second unexpected step the department has taken to try to lessen the serious harm being caused by swine flu.The government is releasing 12.7m doses of the Pandemrix swine flu vaccine, left over from the 2009-10period, when an outbreak killed almost 500 people."I'm writing to GPs to tell them that they can start using H1N1 vaccine on clinical need," said Dame Sally Davies, the interim chief medical officer for England.John Healey, the shadow health secretary, said: "This is a sensible step, but once again late in the day from a government that has been slow to act at every stage of this flu crisis. And coming the day after calls for vaccine suppliers to scour Europe for stocks, this will add to public confusion about what treatment is available and where."Eleven more people have died from flu in the last week, taking the toll from 39 to 50. Of those, 45 deaths were due to swine flu, the main strain of flu circulating this winter; the other five were influenza B.Of the 48 cases where details were known, 33 people were in an "at-risk" group because they had an underlying medical condition such as diabetes, obesity or a breathing condition, or were pregnant. In 39 cases where vaccination status was known, 36 had not had this winter's seasonal flu jab at least two weeks before they fell ill, and 33 had not had a swine flu jab last year, despite vulnerable health.Among the dead, five were aged under five, eight were five to 14, 33 were 15 to 64, and four were older than 64.Ministers have now ordered a review of the way the NHS procures seasonal flu vaccines. This could lead to the health departments in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland taking over from individual GP practices the job of ordering and paying for supplies for next winter. Meirion Evans, of the Faculty of Public Health, said doctors wanted the switch so as to prevent shortages. All childhood vaccines, such as for MMR, tetanus and diptheria, were already obtained this way.However, any move to adopt the same system for seasonal flu vaccines could lead to a dispute between the health department and the BMA, because it would lessen GPs' income.The number of people receiving critical care in hospital because of serious complications brought on by flu also rose this week, from 738 to 783, and a record number of people were receiving intensive support with breathing difficulties, called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, .Davies and the head of the NHS today were cautiously optimistic that the outbreak would peak soon then start to subside. They said that last week fewer people in England and Scotland went to see their doctor with flu-like illnesses; in England the rate dropped from 124 to 98 per 100,000 people. The rate of increase in people ending up in critical care also slowed sharply.The Countess of Chester hospital, in Chester, has become the latest hospital to ask the public not to visit "in order to reduce the risk of patients and staff becoming ill". People have been advised to visit only come if "absolutely essential".FluHealthSwine fluNHSDenis © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More FeedsTed Bruning Roslyn Niblock Clayton Brose Allan Kriss Clinton Vanostrand

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