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