‘Vaccinate families against swine flu first’

Author: By Chris Green

The recommendations come as the government figures showed the number of people
being diagnosed with the virus in the UK is now falling steadily, with an
estimated 11,000 new cases in England last week, down from 25,000 the week
before.

The vaccination study by American scientists, published yesterday in the
online version of the journal Science, concluded that the most effective way
to protect the population would be to prioritise the immunisation of school
pupils and their parents, as these groups are most likely to transmit swine
flu to others.

The researchers looked at data collected during earlier flu pandemics in 1918
and 1957, in an attempt to locate the groups of people who would be best to
target with a vaccine.

?We find that optimal vaccination is achieved by prioritisation of
schoolchildren and adults aged 30 to 39 years,? the scientists wrote.
?Schoolchildren are most responsible for transmission, and their parents
serve as bridges to the rest of the population.?

The advice contradicts the Government?s plans for a mass immunisation campaign
beginning in October, which is due to prioritise people with chronic health
conditions, pregnant women and pensioners. A decision has yet to be taken
about whether the rest of the population will receive injections.

The number of UK swine flu-related deaths currently stands at 59, with 10
occurring in the past week. In England, there are 263 patients being treated
in hospital, down from 371 reported last week. Almost half of those who have
died lived in London.

The government?s chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson said yesterday that
it was ?virtually impossible? to accurately predict when a second wave of
swine flu will arrive.

A surge in the number of cases is widely expected in the autumn, when people?s
immune systems are naturally weaker and schools and universities return
after the summer holidays, but Sir Liam described this as only a ?best
guess?.

He said he hoped the current pandemic would follow the pattern of that in
1968-70, when the second wave hit at Christmas. This would give the
government time to vaccinate as many people as possible.

A few weeks ago, one in four people reporting flu-like symptoms to their GP or
the National Pandemic Flu Service were eventually diagnosed with swine flu;
now it is one in 10.

?It is unusual to have [flu] around this time of year even at the levels we
have got,? Sir Liam said. ?We do expect a second wave but we can?t forecast
when. The best guess is it will be this winter.?

The Health Protection Agency said that most cases of the H1N1 virus were mild,
and that there was no sign of the virus mutating, becoming more severe or
developing resistance to anti-viral drugs.

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