Flu jab fears mean NHS is ‘more scared than ever’

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Laura Don­nelly Health ed­i­tor

‘It wasn’t very ef­fec­tive last year, but it is our best hope. I have had mine’

THE NHS is “more scared than ever” about the risks of a heavy flu sea­son this win­ter, amid fears the flu vac­ci­na­tion may fail to pro­tect the el­derly.

Sir Mal­colm Grant, chairman of NHS Eng­land, said last night that he feared hos­pi­tals would be “in­un­dated” with cases, de­spite at­tempts to bol­ster ser­vices. He made the warn­ing as Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer, said she feared the jab may not pro­tect the el­derly this win­ter, but said it was still “our best hope” to stave off a cri­sis.

Dame Sally has urged 21mil­lion peo­ple el­i­gi­ble for free vac­ci­na­tions – in­clud­ing chil­dren, pen­sion­ers and health work­ers – to take up the jabs. How­ever, last year’s jabs had zero ef­fec­tive­ness among over-65s, while pro- tect­ing two in three chil­dren, an of­fi­cial eval­u­a­tion has re­vealed.

This year’s pro­gramme will push fur­ther on try­ing to pro­tect those who come into con­tact with pen­sion­ers, in case the jabs fail as badly as last year, with fears flu rates could be far higher.

In a let­ter sent to all NHS work­ers, staff are told to “do their duty” and get vac­ci­nated – and those who opt out will have to ex­plain them­selves.

More than one mil­lion care home work­ers will also be of­fered the jab.

Health of­fi­cials are anx­ious about how hos­pi­tals will cope if pat­terns seen in Aus­tralia – which has just bat­tled its worst flu sea­son for al­most two decades – are repli­cated here.

Yes­ter­day, Sir Mal­colm told the na­tional chil­dren and adult ser­vices con­fer­ence in Bournemouth: “We face win­ter bet­ter pre­pared than we have ever been, but more scared than we have ever been. We have the strong like­li­hood of hos­pi­tals be­ing in­un­dated with peo­ple suf­fer­ing from flu.”

Of­fi­cials are par­tic­u­larly fear­ful be­cause of ev­i­dence that last year’s vac­cine failed to pro­tect those over 65.

An eval­u­a­tion of last year’s pro­gramme, seen by The Daily Tele­graph, shows pen­sion­ers who had the jab fared no bet­ter than those who did not, while 66 per cent of chil­dren were pro­tected. This year’s vac­cine is sim­i­lar to last year’s, which failed to ef­fec­tively counter strains such as those which have re­cently proved vir­u­lent in Aus­tralia.

Dame Sally, 67, said: “None of us know how it is go­ing to go. It wasn’t very ef­fec­tive last year but it is our best hope. I’ve had mine.”

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