July 18, 2009

Entire British population to be offered swine flu jab

British health authorities on Monday reported the death of a healthy seven-year-old girl from swine flu, as the entire nation was offered vaccination against the H1N1 virus that has infected more than 9,000 people.

The first batch of the jab is expected to arrive in Britain in about two months, and some 20 million people are to be inoculated by Christmas.

The entire population of 60 million will be offered protection by the middle of next year in what has been described as the biggest mass vaccination programme in Britain since the small pox vaccination 50 years ago.

The priorities for the vaccination programme have been listed as frontline medical staff - led by Britain's 1,940 General Practitioners, social workers, the elderly, under-fives and those suffering from asthma, diabetes or weak immune systems.

Meanwhile, the death of a seven-year-old London girl without any underlying health problems took the swine flu toll in Britain to 16.

The girl fell ill with a sore throat last week but her doctor sent her home without giving her the Tamiflu antiviral drug saying she had tonsillitis, the Sun reported.

Her condition deteriorated overnight and she was taken to hospital Thursday morning where she died hours later.

The British government ordered 132 million vaccine doses two months ago at a cost of 155 million pounds to deal with a virus that is reported to have infected 9,718 people in Britain - the third highest after Mexico and the US.

The Department of Health said it expects supplies of the vaccine, which is still being developed, to start becoming available by early autumn.

Around 60 million doses are expected to be available by the end of the year - enough to vaccinate around half of Britain's population with two doses per person, a spokesman said.

"If the virus mutates, it can get a lot more nasty - and the idea is to give people immunity. But the sheer logistics of dealing with 60 million people cannot be underestimated," said Peter Holden, the British Medical Association's lead negotiator on swine flu.

A Health Department spokesman said Sunday night: "We have now signed contracts with manufacturers to supply enough vaccine for the whole population once it has been developed," The Sun reported.

A spokesman for the British prime minister said: "There has been extensive preparation in Downing Street and across the Civil Service to minimise the spread of swine flu."

The British media reported Monday that Prime Minister Gordon Brown banned his senior climate change adviser Michael Jacobs from attending the recent G8 summit in Italy after the official came down with swine flu.

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