All Children Under Five To Get H1N1 Jab

(Reuters) – BRITAIN WILL EXPAND its H1N1 flu vaccination programme to all children between 6 months and 5-years-old (some 2.7 million people) the government’s health chief said today.

Although infection rates of swine flu are dropping and worst-case forecasts have been sharply revised down, Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson said young children were still at significant risk.

‘Whilst we are seeing these relatively high numbers of people, particularly children, in hospital and intensive care, I think we are not taking so much interest in the overall trend, we are more interested in continuing to fight the disease,’ Donaldson told a news conference.

He declined to say if the virus was now definitively in decline. ‘I think it’s just really too early to say,’ he said. New cases of swine flu in England continue to decline, with 53,000 recorded last week, down from 64,000 the week before.

But cases of children under 5 being hospitalised due to H1N1 have spiked in recent weeks — above July levels when infections last peaked. A total of 214 people have died of the virus in the United Kingdom.

With the decision to vaccinate even healthy children, more than 12 million people in Britain are now eligible. Many European countries have begun vaccinating against H1N1, usually targeting at-risk categories first.

A first phase of the vaccination programme, launched last month, targeted pregnant women, front-line healthcare workers, and other people considered ‘high-risk.’

But a survey this week in doctors’ magazine Pulse showed a majority of them had declined to take the virus, possibly due to scepticism over the severity of the pandemic.

Donaldson, whose own survey showed 73% of parents would vaccinate their children, dismissed that report.

‘If the readers of Pulse (general practitioners) had done a study of that sort and submitted it to a reputable medical journal it wouldn’t have been published. It was a very small scale poll of GPs,’ he said.

GlaxoSmithKline Plc, AstraZeneca Plc, Novartis and Sanofi-Aventis are among about 25 manufacturers producing H1N1 vaccine around the world.

Severe Swine Flu Cases ‘Snowballing’

(Reuters) – THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE needing hospital treatment for the H1N1 virus in England is ‘snowballing,’ although the rise in the overall number of estimated cases is slowing, health officials said today.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said there are now 848 patients in hospital with swine flu, of whom 172 are receiving critical care. In September, the number of swine flu patients in hospital was below 300.

Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, said the reason for the jump in severe cases was unknown, although the virus is not thought to have mutated.

‘There has been a snowballing of cases in intensive care which is giving us concern,’ he told a news conference. ‘It is consistent with what happened in the southern hemisphere and it is unexplained.’

There were an estimated 84,000 new cases of the flu in England, up from an estimated 78,000 the previous week, a rise of 7.7%, he added.

In the previous week, health officials said the number of estimated new cases had risen by nearly 50%.

The total number of people who have had flu since the outbreak began stands at 620,000. Donaldson said there was a small drop in the estimated number of people going to their GPs with flu-like symptoms, to 37.7 people per 100,000 compared to 42.8 in the previous week.

The HPA said the virus was generally mild and had shown no significant changes. The number of deaths of people with swine flu in England has reached 105; but not all those can be attributed to the virus.

Swine Flu Vaccination To Start Next Week

(Reuters) – BRITAIN WILL START a vaccination program against H1N1 swine flu next week, the country’s chief medical officer said today.

‘The program will be rolling from next week,’ Liam Donaldson told reporters.

A total of 415,000 doses of GlaxoSmithKline’s Pandemrix shot will be delivered from October 21 to immunise high-risk patients in hospitals and front-line healthcare workers.

From the week beginning October 26, 4.4 million doses of the same vaccine will be delivered to general practitioners for patients in priority groups, officials added.

The government has previously said the first to be immunised would be about 5 million people aged over six months in current seasonal flu risk groups, all pregnant women, contacts of people with compromised immune systems, and about 2 million health and social care workers.

Britain has bought supplies of swine flu vaccine from both Glaxo and Baxter.

Swine Flu Vaccinations To Start This Month

(Reuters) – BRITAIN WILL START a mass vaccination programme against the deadly H1N1 swine flu before the end of the month and hospital patients will be first to get the shot, the chief medical officer said today.

Swine flu deaths so far stand at 76 in England, 10 in Scotland, three in Northern Ireland and one in Wales.

There were an estimated 18,000 new cases of H1N1 flu in the past week, up from around 14,000 in the previous weeks, according to health officials.

Sir Liam Donaldson said the government had around half a million doses of Baxter International’s vaccine in warehouses ready for use, while delivery of the first of millions of doses of a vaccine from GlaxoSmithKline was ‘imminent.’

The first people to be immunised will be patients in hospital who are suffering serious illnesses that make them more vulnerable to the disease.

Hospital staff who have daily contact with seriously ill people will also be at the front of the line to get the shot.

Donaldson said Britain was ‘well into the second wave’ of swine flu, which was ‘proving so far to be a slow burn.’

He said there was a possibility that the virus might peak at a lower level than previously feared, which would be ‘incredibly positive news.’

‘Any breathing space we get… we will take because it gives us the opportunity to fight this disease and save lives,’ he said.

The World Health Organisation earlier this week restated its confidence in vaccination, saying it was the most important tool against the pandemic after some reports said some people were reluctant to be injected with the new vaccines.

The European Commission gave a licence for Baxter’s Celvapan vaccine against H1N1 on Wednesday, following earlier green lights for Pandemrix and Focetria vaccines made by GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis.

Concern As Swine Flu Numbers Rise Again

(Reuters) – A RISE IN THE NUMBER of English cases of the H1N1 influenza could indicate the start of a second wave of infections, and two cases have shown resistance to the antiviral drug Tamiflu, health officials said today.

There were about 5,000 new cases of the virus, known as swine flu, reversing recent declines — with an increase in the number of people being admitted to hospital.

Scotland also reported ‘a significant increase’ in the number of people contacting their doctors with flu symptoms, the Scottish government said.

‘We don’t know whether this is the start of the next big wave that we were expecting this autumn but it is certainly something that’s giving us concern,’ Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson said.

‘It will probably be a week or two before we see whether this increase is sustained.’

Last week officials had said Britain was ‘tantalisingly close’ to fending off the flu as the number of weekly infections fell to about 3,000 from a peak at the end of July when more than 100,000 cases a week were being reported.

Roche Holding AG said last Friday there had been 23 reported cases in which the flu had been resistant to the antiviral drug Tamiflu.

Donaldson said the Health Protection Agency (HPA) had found two more cases in Britain taking the overall total to 25.

‘The positive side of it is that so far these have not been strains that have then gone on and affected other patients, they have stayed with the patient in which they were isolated,’ Donaldson said.

‘What would worry us is if we got a resistant strain that then started infecting people like the rest of the cases of flu that have occurred.’

Flu viruses are prone to mutation and experts are not surprised that they would evolve towards resistance, just as bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics.

Most of those who have contracted the virus have suffered mild symptoms. However, 67 people in England with the flu have died, the HPA said.

Earlier this month, Britain lowered the potential number of deaths from swine flu in the worst case scenario to 19,000 from 65,000.

Swine Flu Schools To Stay Open

(BBC) – SCHOOLS IN THE EAST OF ENGLAND hit by swine flu this autumn are being advised to stay open; but the final decision still lies with head teachers.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has issued the advice as thousands of pupils start a new academic year.

Last term numerous schools shut as soon as cases emerged; but now only infected pupils should be kept at home.

Dr Joe Kearney, regional director of the HPA, said the risks were the same whether pupils were at school or home.

‘There is no advantage in closing the schools and trying to contain the virus,’ he said.

‘It is out in the community. School isn’t the only place people can catch swine flu.

‘School children with swine flu should be kept at home.’

The HPA said across the east the number of people contacting the NHS swine flu helpline with symptoms had gone down for the fifth week running.

Where the condition is diagnosed or suspected, people are offered anti-viral drugs; but it is no longer confirmed by a laboratory swab test.

‘Exact numbers are not possible but it is estimated that up to 70,000 people in the east have had swine flu,’ the spokesman said.

Dr Linda Sheridan, director of Flu Resilience, predicted the number could increase 10-fold in a second surge this winter.

‘That could coincide with the start of term, or in November when the weather gets colder,’ she said.

Across the region, councils, hospitals and big businesses are preparing their own pandemic plans to cope with an expected rise in staff absences if the second surge comes.

The first batches of a swine flu vaccine are expected to arrive in the country shortly.

… (17/09/2009) – Concern As Swine Flu Numbers Rise Again

Diabetics And Heart Disease Sufferers To Get Vaccine First

(BBC) – A SWINE FLU VACCINATION CAMPAIGN will be launched in the autumn; but only certain at risk groups, including pregnant women, will be given the jab.

Those with underlying health conditions up to the age of 65 have been identified as the first priority in the UK followed by pregnant women.

Health and social care workers will also get the jab, meaning about 14m people will be immunised by December.

The government has yet to decide whether everyone should be given it.

There are contracts in place for 132m doses of the jab — enough for the whole population, as people will require two shots.

Nearly 55m doses should be available by the end of the year, compared to the 15m ordered annually for seasonal flu.

Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson said the vaccine was going through similar safety testing as the seasonal flu vaccine.

He added: ‘We have a real chance to save lives if we can get the vaccine in place.

‘We are putting up a real fight against this virus.’

The vaccine programme is due to roll out as follows (if it is granted approval by European regulators in late September or early October as expected):-

  • In October, those aged six months to 65-years-old in conventional at-risk groups for normal seasonal flu, such as those with diabetes or heart disease, will be vaccinated.
  • This will be followed by all pregnant women, subject to licensing arrangements and better information on when in the pregnancy the vaccine should be given.
  • People living in households with patients with suppressed immune systems and those over 65 in conventional at-risk groups will then be eligible.
  • Front-line health and social care workers will then be vaccinated.
  • By the middle of winter, the government hopes to have enough evidence to decide whether the campaign should be extended to healthy people.

Many people had expected children to be among the first wave of priority groups; but experts ruled this out because, while they have been the worst hit in terms of the number of cases, it is mainly those with underlying health conditions that have developed complications.

Sir Liam said: ‘We have to protect the most vulnerable first.’