Social care staff among first to receive swine flu vaccine

FRONTLINE social care staff in Wales will be among the first people to be offered the new swine flu jab.

Government officials told the Western Mail, social care staff will be vaccinated alongside frontline NHS workers and vulnerable people.

The first wave of swine flu vaccination is expected to start in mid-October and will run alongside the seasonal flu jab.

But a decision has not yet been made about whether school children and healthy adults will receive the jab next year.

Further details about the mass swine flu vaccination programme emerged last night as councils took steps to reassure parents that schools will open as normal when the new term starts in September.

Wales swine flu

Education officials in Rhondda Cynon Taf moved to quash rumours that schools would remain closed because of the pandemic.

It is understood that if swine flu reaches peak levels this autumn and winter, as predicted, schools will take advice about whether they should close from the National Public Health Service for Wales.

The swine flu vaccination programme will begin in Wales once the jab has been licensed.

Dr Tony Jewell, Wales’ chief medical officer, said: “The UK has procured enough vaccine for everyone.

“The advice is that the first batch is used for people at high risk of illness and that will buy us time to see how it performs.

“In addition, health and social care workers on the frontline, who are exposed to infection, will also get it so that we can keep the service running and keep staff coming in to work.”

Concerns about the safety of the new swine flu vaccine have been raised after it emerged that the Health Protection Agency wrote to neurologists asking them to be alert to a potential increase in cases of Guillain- Barre syndrome (GBS) after the immunisation programme.

A survey earlier this week suggested that one in three nurses would not have the jab because of concerns about its safety and the perception that swine flu is a mild illness.

GBS affects around 1,500 people in the UK every year and causes nerve inflammation and temporary paralysis. Some nerve damage may be permanent. In rare cases, GBS can also lead to respiratory failure and death.

Cases of GBS were noted when a swine flu vaccine was introduced in the US in 1976 in response to an outbreak.

Dr Jewell said: “There is nothing to say that the seasonal flu or this [swine flu] vaccine will have any greater chance of side-effects.

“The swine flu vaccine is being produced in a similar way to the seasonal flu vaccine – millions of people have had the seasonal flu vaccine.”

Health Minister Edwina Hart last night said that GP practices would carry out the swine flu vaccination programme.

“We have been extremely satisfied with primary care, it has been absolutely excellent on the frontline and we very much want to keep [swine flu] in this context,” she said.

“It is important that people can speak to their GPs also in relation to the distribution of antivirals.”

Official figures last night revealed that swine flu is continuing to fall in Wales – about 873 people have contacted their GP with flu-like symptoms, down from almost 5,000 last month.

But experts have urged the public to remain vigilant as a surge of cases is expected once the new school term starts.

Rhondda Cynon Taf Council said: “We have received a significant number of calls from those who are concerned, or have heard rumours, about schools closing due to swine flu or other outbreaks.

“That is not the case. At this time, all schools are scheduled to reopen as per usual and parents and carers are urged to take that message on board.

“In the unlikely situation of a school closure, those affected will be notified.”