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Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Category: Science, Health and Saving Things

Swine Flu and those who did well

The Observer, October 2009

On 30 September 2009, Professor David Salisbury, the Department of Health's Director of Immunisation, sent a detailed letter to the people who were responsible for our future wellbeing during this swine flu outbreak. The recipients included all "Flu Directors and Co-ordinators" and "Pandemic Influenza Leads" in every health authority and NHS primary care trust in England, a rigorously marshalled and prepared bunch, several hundred in total. The letter concerned the new flu vaccine, which was three weeks from being widely available and couldn't come soon enough. After a lull over the summer, the outbreak was on the rise again: within two weeks of Salisbury's letter, it rose to an estimated 27,000 new cases in a week, double the total of a fortnight before. The greatest rise had been seen in people below 25.

The vaccine, which offers protection specifically against the H1N1 virus rather than the seasonal three-strain jab, is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline under the name Pandemrix. It will be delivered in batches of 500 doses, each batch sent in a container the size of a shoebox, and GPs will receive £5.25 for each jab (the shot will be free to patients). Professor Salisbury hoped 9.5 million people will be vaccinated, the number of people in England judged to be in the clinical risk groups - the elderly, pregnant women, those with immuno-compromised conditions and heart disease, and healthcare workers. Ideally, the vaccine should be delivered in two doses three weeks apart, but it was thought that one dose would also provide adequate protection. Salisbury's letter contained much information about the constitution of the vaccine, which contained trace elements of mercury to maintain stability, and he also noted that although most doses were given without any trouble at all, rare cases could have side-effects; in these circumstances, anyone affected would be covered under the Vaccine Damage Payments Scheme.

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