I’m at home today, with the news on in the background, and I’m getting rather frustrated by the media’s attempt to cause all sorts of flu related panics.
For those who don’t know much about the flu vaccination programme, it is offered every year to the over 65’s, and to those in certain groups. These groups are generally those with underlying chronic conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, heart problems etc. Rates of uptake are often disappointing, especially in the under 65’s.
In 2009 we saw the emergence of swine flu (H1N1), and a new vaccine was produced. The same groups were offered this vaccine, as well as all children 5 and under. Again, the uptake was poor, especially for these young children. I ran specific clinics to offer this vaccine, and they were all rather quiet.
In October 2010 we started the most recent flu vaccine program. The trivalent vaccine is made in advance, after tracking the strongest strains, and one of the strains this time is swine flu. Once again, this program started in October.. fridge’s were stacked with the vaccine, but uptake has been very low.. and again, the younger age range has been the least likely to come in.
Now the media are reporting a rise in the number of flu cases, with the majority being swine flu. This is actually to be expected – this is the time of year when we see flu, and we already know that swine flu is one of the prominent strains.
According to news reports, people are now desperate to get vaccinated, and they are having all sorts of problems. Most important to remember is that the vast majority of people who are particularly ill from flu, are those with underlying conditions, and pregnant women.. and these groups have been offered the vaccine since October.
For those who are generally healthy, the flu is not a nice illness, but it’s something you can take care of at home, and it will pass after a week or two. In an ideal world everyone would be offered a vaccine, but it’s just not possible. There is always the opportunity to get the vaccine privately – many supermarkets offer it for £15 or under.
The latest reports are now about a vaccine shortage. My understanding is that this is in certain pockets only at the moment. There needs to be a little organisation between GPs to share stock, and it certainly should not be given to those not in a risk group if numbers are running low.
The media is grabbing hold of this, finding stories, and twisting things around. For the majority of people, if you come into one of the categories recommended by the Dept of Health, you should be able to still go to your GP and get the vaccine. I would also advise that next winter people try to attend in October / November, as this is when stocks are high, and nurses set up clinics specifically to the vaccines done.
If you’re not in one of these categories, please don’t turn up at your GP, demanding the vaccine because the news says you should – as I have come across.
If you’re unfortunate enough to be in an area where there is a shortage, you’re in a risk group, and you haven’t yet had your jab, ask your surgery what alternatives are being set up.. can a chemist provide the vaccine for a prescription charge, are you willing to pay your local supermarket £15 to protect your health.. etc
Most importantly, don’t just accept everything you read / hear in the news, but find out the facts.. and don’t let them start up a panic. 🙂
I would recommend the BBC health blog – Fergus seems to consistently provide up to date, balance information.
P.S. Please note that these are my own views, backed up by experience as a practice nurse. I’m frustrated by the media coverage, and wanted to put across a different view. 😉