Low-level of flu jab uptake worries health bosses

HEALTH bosses fear that the “swine flu factor” is responsible for a very slow uptake of flu jabs in north Essex this autumn, it has emerged.

People eligible for flu vaccinations have now been urged to have their jab following the “very slow” take-up.

Free seasonal flu vaccinations, which protect against swine flu, have been available at GP surgeries for the past four weeks for the over-65s, pregnant women and certain at risk groups.

Health chiefs have revealed they are concerned take-up is currently well below the national target and fear people may have reservations because of the swine flu element of the vaccine.

Dr James Hickling, a practising GP and medical director at NHS North East Essex, said swine flu is expected to be one of the main strains this year and that having the jab could make the difference between life and death.

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“Each year, the World Health Organisation announces which influenza strains should be included in the seasonal vaccine.

“This year, one of those is the H1N1 virus – or swine flu. Despite the considerable publicity surrounding swine flu last year, it was actually a relatively mild strain of flu.

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“It is important that people who had a swine flu vaccination last year still have this year’s seasonal jab as, unlike other vaccinations, a flu vaccination is only effective for a 12-month period.

“For a flu vaccination programme to be effective, it is important we achieve a significant percentage take-up so I would urge the over-65s and those in at risk groups – for whom flu can be a very dangerous illness – to contact their GP immediately to arrange their free vaccination. It could be a life-saver.”

People in at risk groups include those with a chronic heart or chest complaint, severe kidney disease, diabetes, lowered immunity due to a disease or treatment or who live in an old people’s home or nursing home.

Because the flu viruses mutate quickly people at risk have to have them with yearly as the vaccine of the year before can become ineffective by the next season. Health officials use information gathered from around the world to determine which strains of influenza virus are most likely to be prevalent during the upcoming flu season.

The effectiveness of a vaccine is usually strongest during the first six months after receiving a flu shot but after that, the strength of the protection it provides begins to diminish.

Children aged between 6 months and 12 years old require two doses of the flu vaccine usually four to six weeks apart if it’s the first time they’ve been vaccinated for influenza because youngsters do not develop an adequate antibody level the first time they get the vaccine.

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