Rush for flu vaccine worth celebration

Let’s celebrate the public’s approval for vaccination . . .
Before Christmas, the public was told that the number in intensive care in England with suspect or confirmed flu was four times higher than at the peak of H1N1 in 2009 but there was no pandemic, because transmission in other countries was not as assertive.
Also, the vast majority of the flu-deaths (45/50: 90 per cent), as verified by the Health Protection Agency, are H1N1 (and in those under-65); and about a third of verified H1N1-deaths are not in those classified by the Chief Medical Officer as high-risk.
As a result, we may guess that the public - including those not in high-risk groups – responded by increasing their uptake of seasonal flu immunization. There was certainly a surge in demand, and the Department of Health released stocks of H1N1 vaccine, since its reading of the runes no doubt suggested that protection against swine flu was the primary concern of those not defined as being high-risk.
The public’s reward for this precautionary approach was to be damned with faint praise on the Today programme (Tuesday, January 11) by Dr Clare Gerada, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners. While she did not want those outside the high-risk groups to be banned from having the vaccination, she thought they might wait until the need of those at greater risk had been met.
A similar message was given in a statement from the RCGP on January 7: “The ‘worried well’ can get the vaccine from pharmacies but GP priority must be for those in high-risk groups.”
The public has reacted swiftly, as epidemics require, to the presumption that most of the patients in intensive care with suspect or confirmed flu are H1N1-infected. (We don’t actually know this for sure because virology is not reported for those in ICU). And people’s sensible conclusion has been to seek immunisation, even if it has to be purchased privately.
That’s something that ought to be welcomed, not seen as a threat.
UK purchased enough H1N1 vaccine in 2009 for all to be immunized, and stocks were not then used up. People have surely reacted sensibly – in vaccination terms - to its apparently wider-transmission than in 2009.
Without proper virology, even for ICU cases, we are, of course, all reading the runes.
Conflicts of Interest: SMB writes in a personal capacity. She is a member of UK’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Advisory Committee and holds GSK shares.