Political Promise

Should I be worried by flu?

In David Brownsey-Joyce on January 12, 2011 at 5:48 pm

David Brownsey-Joyce spent the week wondering whether the government had done enough to combat flu this year and whether he should get immunised.

The number of deaths attributed to flu has reached 50 with nearly 1,000 people receiving critical care with conditions attributed to flu. So I was wondering whether or not I should get immunised to protect myself?

A little background on flu immunisations. The World Health Organisation (WHO) decides each February which strains of the virus an immunisation that year should be targeted at. These are constantly changing and for this year’s fight the WHO chose to target influenza B, H3N2 and H1N1.

H1N1 is the strain that had us all ducking for cover as ‘swine flu’ took hold. As such it is part of this year’s immunisation program, especially as it was affecting largely healthy people during its outbreak rather than the traditional at risk categories of the elderly, vulnerable, pregnant and those that work with poultry.

As I am neither in a high risk category or pluck chickens for a living I am not eligible for a free jab, however it wouldn’t matter as some GPs are now running out of vaccine for this season. Areas in England that have run out are finding it difficult to obtain new vaccine from European counterparts as health officials found out this week.

This is leading some to consider dipping into the 12 million dose stockpile we have left designed to tackle the H1N1 strain. It should be pointed out that this does not protect against influenza B or H3N2. Meaning we would still have people getting sick, taking time off work or possibly not (in a recession people tend to drag themselves in) and spreading the virus further, and affecting the economy.

We could also ask Scotland for help. They have not reported suffering any shortage in supply and it would be cheaper to ship it but somehow I can’t see a Conservative Health Minister asking any favours from a Scottish Government.

Maybe England should take a leaf out of the Scottish procurement process for vaccine. Their pharmacies order for the GPs within their catchment area with the Scottish Government ordering a reserve, available if and where it is needed. England has its ‘swine flu’ reserve but no seasonal flu reserve.

Of course there is always the private sector. You can get your jab pretty much everywhere these days, however after the ‘swine flu’ outbreak people are a little spooked and so rushed to get themselves immunised. As such some areas are now running out of stock in the private sector and those that do may have hiked their prices.

One radio report I heard during the week gave an account of people trying to get their children vaccinated at private hospitals, being quoted £40 for a vaccine and £140 for a consultation to administer the vaccine. There are undoubtedly cases which exceed this and those that are quite reasonable. The simple fact is that we are in a postcode lottery and you may have to go a little further if you want to find a bargain.

The funny thing about the immunisation program is that it takes between a week and 10 days for your body to adapt and begin manufacturing antibodies to the virus; meaning once you’ve got flu it’s already too late. For all those out there panicking we are still way short of the 200 per 100,000 threshold for this to be classified as an epidemic so nothing really going on.

The bottom line is that flu happens every year and it will unfortunately lead to a number of deaths. Does that mean that we need to panic? No. It does however mean that for a number of us we will be stuck at home for a week or so, generally feeling dreadful.

Speaking of which, I think my glands are swollen.


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