Cameron admits to swine flu vaccine shortages and says we may see ‘significant outbreaks for years to come’Posted on January 9th, 2011 No comments
David Cameron was yesterday forced to deny that spending cuts had made Britain vulnerable to swine flu as he warned that the country faced ‘significant outbreaks’ of flu for years to come.
But the Prime Minister said lessons must be learned from the vaccine shortages that have seen GP surgeries turning away vulnerable people seeking the flu shot in recent days.
His comments came as Labour accused the Coalition of putting pregnant women at risk by failing to promote the flu jab.
The official death toll from the flu outbreak since October has now risen to 50. Most were victims of swine flu, the dominant strain of influenza in circulation.
The latest Department of Health figures show that more people are going to their GPs in England and Wales with winter flu symptoms than at any time since the epidemic of 1999-2000 in which 20,000 died.
This winter’s outbreak is still below epidemic levels and is not as serious as the 2009 summer outbreak, when 500 people died.
However, doctors are concerned because the swine flu strain is hitting the youngest hardest.
In a normal flu season, the elderly suffer most from infection but this winter around 90 per cent of patients being treated are under 65.
Last week the Government announced it was being forced to raid last year’s stocks of the swine flu jab to plug shortages in the vaccination programme.
The old vaccine only protects against one of the three strains in circulation.
Mr Cameron – who revealed that he had not had a jab this year – denied the shortages were caused by spending cuts and insisted that the Government had followed expert advice throughout.
‘Doctors did order something like 14 million doses of vaccine. Because of very heavy usage there are some shortages in some places,’ he told BBC Radio 5 Live. It is very important that we learn the lessons from this.
‘One of the lessons is that it looks likely that, because of the prevalence of swine flu and other strains, we might have quite significant outbreaks in future years and we need to look at the way we order vaccinations and whether more needs to be done.’
He went on: ‘This is nothing to do with cuts. The NHS is not having cuts.’
Out of the 50 people who have died from flu since October, 69 per cent were in an ‘at risk’ group. At risk groups include pregnant women, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems.
Labour yesterday renewed its attack on the Coalition’s handling of the outbreak.
Shadow Health Secretary John Healey questioned why the Government was refusing to publish figures on the number of deaths among pregnant women.
In a letter to Andrew Lansley, the Secretary of State for Health, he said there was ‘no justification’ for not letting the public have information about pregnant women.
He added: ‘This is the first year in which it was decided to classify pregnant women among the at risk groups and offer them the projection of a free flu jab.
‘When did you not ensure more effort was made early to reassure women that the vaccine is safe and important for them to receive?
‘Why did you axe the annual autumn advertising campaign to help inform the public about flu risk and boost take up of the vaccine, including among women who are pregnant?’
Around 600 people die from seasonal flu in a typical year. In an epidemic year the death toll rises to around 13,000.
Last year at least 12 of the victims of swine flu were pregnant women.
Ministers will carry out a review later this year into whether vaccines should be ordered centrally, rather than by GP surgeries.
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Posted on January 9th, 2011 No comments
A research team has hurriedly been re-formed to investigate whether the swine flu virus has started to mutate in a way that will render the vaccine ineffective.
Senior Government scientists have already discovered slight genetic mutations in the H1N1 virus.
They are checking whether this is causing some people to be more severely affected, although there is no evidence at this stage to suggest the changes would stop the vaccine working or prevent the anti-viral drug Tamiflu from being effective.
So far, 45 people are known to have died from swine flu since October.
The team, based at Imperial College London, are testing the DNA samples of hundreds of swine flu victims.
Professor Peter Openshaw, director of the Centre for Respiratory Infection at Imperial, said: ‘We have paid particular attention to whether the mutations are affecting how well the vaccine works and whether the slight mutations have led to it becoming more severe.’
The study, known as MOSAIC, was set up in 2009 to monitor the virus during the pandemic, but it was swiftly re-assembled last month with the latest outbreak.
Asthma specialist nurse Katy Odeadra, who works in the Chest and Allergy Clinic at St Mary’s Hospital, said: ‘All the talk among doctors and nurses dealing with swine flu cases is of a mutated form of the virus.’
The Health Protection Agency said yesterday: ‘The vaccine still works.’
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