Legacy of 'junk science' affecting vaccine uptake
New figures from the Department of Health in England suggest that 2.3 million people in the priority groups have now been immunised against H1N1 swine flu.
That includes 81,000 pregnant women. 308,000 front-line health workers have been given the jab, compared to 124,000 last year for seasonal flu.
A look at the priority groups suggests a lot of people are still to be immunised, or will not bother to have the jab.
There are 9.5 million people in priority groups for the jab in England and 2 million front-line health care workers.
Health officials say they are encouraged by the uptake, but the Chief Medical Officer for England, Sir Liam Donaldson said it would have been higher but for two factors:
"The uptake had been influenced by the disgraceful junk science that was thrown at the MMR jab. The legacy of that is potentially putting lives at risk."
And he said the lack of a "fear factor" was another important element.
He contrasted the introduction of the swine flu jab with another vaccine against a strain of meningitis, introduced in 1999. "Take Meningitis C", he said:
"Parents were terrified of the disease and where there is a big public fear factor you will get a high uptake. Most people don't think swine flu is a big risk. But there is no need to expose yourself to. We don't force people to have vaccines in this country. It's not compulsory (unlike in the USA where you have to be immunised before going to school). If you are in an at risk group and you choose not to have the vaccine, then that is up to you."
Remember that the UK has provisional orders for up to 132 million doses of swine flu vaccine (based on the expectation that two doses would be needed).
Clearly we aren't going to need all of those, and the Department is not saying whether they have to buy them, or whether there is an opt-out clause (all such contract details are confidential).
But it begs the question as to whether any other groups will be offered the jab in the New Year. I think it unlikely, given that the H1N1 swine flu virus is likely to be incorporated into the seasonal flu jab for next winter.
Sir Liam Donaldson said "the next policy decision would be to see whether the swine flu vaccine should be made available to anyone", but he made it clear that this was not something that was being considered for now.
One vaccine enough for children
In case you missed it, the advice from the Department of Health is that one dose of vaccine is sufficient for the under-fives. So that means people of all ages need just one jab (unless they are immuno-compromised).
This is the result of new analysis from the European regulator, the EMEA, which warned that young children may experience fever after their second dose of Pandemrix (the main swine flu vaccine) and that the first dose triggered a good immune response.
More local deals are being struck between doctors and NHS managers over immunisation plans for children. GPs across London have signed up to a deal to ensure children between six months and under five get the jab via their local surgery. Other deals around the UK are said to be imminent.
Swine flu cases decreasing
Swine flu cases are decreasing across the UK.
England - estimated 11,000 new cases this week (22,000 last week)
Scotland - estimated 8,900 cases (12,300 last week)
Northern Ireland and Wales - cases continuing to fall
Deaths from H1N1 swine flu
13 Northern Ireland
The estimated cumulative number of cases of swine flu in England is 795,000 (range 380,000 - 1,670,000) but the Health Protection Agency has estimated one in five schoolchildren has been infected, so this figure may be revised upwards at some point.
Whatever the figure, swine flu remains a mild illness for the vast majority. Nonetheless there were more than 600 people in hospital in England with suspected swine flu on 9 December and 133 were in intensive care.
As ever this is very good at showing trends and if you follow the bold red line you'll see that H1N1 swine flu cases are continuing to dip and are no way near as high as they were in July. All very reassuring.
I thought I'd show you this as it lists all the health conditions suffered by patients who died from H1N1 swine flu in England. You can see that asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease and diabetes are all major risk factors.
The figures in brackets list the number of patients who had only that single health problem - clearly many had numerous ailments. Of those who died only one in four had received antiviral within the first 48 hours of symptoms.
PS: I told you last week that my son Hugo had suspected swine flu. Within 48 hours I'd been sent a swab kit from the HPA and I dutifully sent it back. Well, there was a letter waiting for me at home last night with the result. It was positive for the swine influenza virus, so he definitely had it.
I was delighted; that might sound odd, but after seeing him poorly, and giving him Tamiflu, I'm pleased that I can tick H1N1 off the list of winter viruses that he might have to contend with. I must take my hat off to the HPA for such a speedy test result. Hugo went back to school this week, sang in the carol concert and is much better. Thanks again for all your kind comments.