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GPs to spearhead swine flu mass vaccination

Health chiefs planning biggest UK mass vaccination programme in 50 years

OnMedica staff

Monday, 13 July 2009

The Department of Health has ordered 130 million doses of a vaccine against swine flu, which will be administered in what is set to be the biggest mass vaccination programme in the UK for 50 years.

Fast-tracking of the vaccine before the H1N1 virus becomes more virulent should see everyone protected by next year. The move follows the first death of a UK patient without underlying health issues.

Peter Holden, the British Medical Association's lead negotiator on swine flu, has been attending Department of Health briefings on fighting the infection. He said GP surgeries would be at the centre of the biggest mass vaccination programme in the UK since the 1962 programme against smallpox. He said: "High-risk groups will be done at GPs' surgeries. We want to get cracking before a second wave, which is traditionally more virulent."

Although details have not been finalised Dr Holden said he expected the campaign would start with children, frontline health workers, people with underlying illness and the elderly. In this way it's hoped to reduce the chances of hospital beds being blocked by people with swine flu and reduce the effect on the economy by ensuring workers are protected.

The Department of Health said that offering vaccination against swine flu "has always been part of our plans in order to protect as many people as possible".

It has now signed contracts with manufacturers GSK and Baxter Healthcare to supply enough vaccine for the whole population once it has been developed.

"We expect the first batches of vaccines to arrive by early autumn, with around 60 million doses available by the end of the year – enough for 30 million people to be vaccinated – with more following after that.Administering vaccines will need to be prioritised and we will make a decision on this when we know more about the risk profile.

"This virus is still generally mild in the vast majority of people. However, it can be more severe in some cases and as with all 'flu-like' viruses, some people are at higher risk than others. Ordering the vaccine, together with our stockpile of antivirals, reflects our significant preparation."

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