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Flu vaccine uptake “shockingly low”

22 December 2010

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A “shockingly low” uptake of the flu vaccine may leave the NHS unable to cope with the spread of the virus, a senior doctor has warned.

After the Department of Health revealed that 302 people are in intensive care with flu, Professor Steve Field said the decision not to run a public awareness campaign about the need for seasonal jabs had been “ill-advised”.

Prof Field, the former chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, told the Guardian: “Rates of uptake are shockingly low. It was ill-advised not to have the public awareness campaign on seasonal flu jab uptake that we usually have, because we knew that the public and healthcare professionals were likely to become complacent after last year’s swine flu pandemic wasn’t the serious attack on the country that we thought it could be.

“With the added winter pressures on the NHS, we need NHS staff to be vaccinated as soon as possible, so that they can continue working, and we also need pregnant women and people who are vulnerable to have a flu jab that includes the swine flu vaccine as soon as possible.”

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has told Cabinet colleagues that the NHS has plenty of capacity to deal with the upsurge in cases.

As of Monday 20 December, there were 24 children under five in critical care with confirmed or suspected flu, another 12 aged five to 15, and 243 in the 16 to 64 age group.

There were also 23 people aged over 65 in critical care.

The majority of the patients are believed to be suffering from swine flu.

So far this flu season, 14 people have died with confirmed swine flu and another three from flu type B.

Last year, 474 people died from swine flu.

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