Page last updated at 17:01 GMT, Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Many 'have doubts over flu jab'

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

Intensive care nurse
There are just over 300 intensive care beds for children

The government still has a long way to go to convince the public to have the swine flu vaccine, an exclusive survey for the BBC suggests.

Half of the 2,000 people polled said they were happy to have the jab, but safety and the fact the virus was mild put off many of those who had doubts.

An overwhelming majority felt NHS workers should get the jab to protect their patients.

The government said it was "strongly recommending" people get the jab.

The UK vaccination programme is already well under way.

More than 11m people from a number of priority groups, including pregnant women and people with health problems, are being offered the jab alongside 2m health and social care staff.

This first wave of vaccinations should be completed in time for Christmas.

We are clearly going to have to work hard to convince many people to have the jab
Dr Dean Marshall, of the British Medical Association

But Dr Dean Marshall, of the British Medical Association, admitted the campaign was proving challenging so far.

He said it was still early days but the response from pregnant women in particular at his surgery in Edinburgh had "not been fantastic" even though they had resorted to ringing them individually.

"You always get some reluctance with any new vaccine and we've not had long to get a public education campaign going with swine flu.

"We are clearly going to have to work hard to convince many people to have the jab."

As yet there are no firm figures on how many people from the priority groups are getting the vaccine as some GPs only received their batches of the vaccine last week.

Concerns

The poll, carried out for the BBC by pollsters GfK NOP, showed 52% would get immunised.

Just over a quarter said they would not, while a fifth said they did not know what they would do.

However, 70% said NHS staff should get vaccinated to protect their patients.

Of those that were not happy to have the jab, 43% cited safety concerns and 36% did not think it was needed.

The pandemic has so far proved milder than many experts feared. There may have been as many as 1m cases so far, but as of last week the death toll was still below 200.

But the government still sees the vaccination as essential in saving lives this winter.

The two types of vaccine being used in the UK have both been through clinical trials and given approval by the official European drugs regulator.

Officials have ordered enough doses of the vaccine to immunise the entire UK population, but identified a number of priority groups as the health service could not do everyone in one go.

The government has yet to decide who should get the jab next, although an announcement is expected soon.

Many believe children will be the next in line as they have been the fastest spreaders of the virus and are the most likely to end up in hospital with complications.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said it was "strongly recommending" people get the vaccine.

"Our best defence against swine flu is the vaccine, so we welcome findings that 52% of people would have it."

But he added: "Ultimately, having the vaccine is a personal choice."



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