Around 15 million patients are candidates for the swine flu jab

By Victoria Fletcher, Health Editor –

PATIENTS who refused to have the swine flu jab last year will be vaccinated against it anyway during this autumn’s seasonal flu campaign.

Health officials have said this year’s jab will protect against three types of flu including H1N1 or swine flu.

The decision was made after scientists said swine flu will still be circulating this winter and could pose a threat to health.

But many patients may be left feeling upset that a vaccine they did not want to have has been combined with one they did.

Announcing the annual flu campaign yesterday, officials also said that pregnant women would be offered the seasonal flu jab for the first time to protect them against swine flu.

Pregnant women were hit particularly hard by the H1N1 virus and experts are keen to protect as many as possible before further winter outbreaks.

The seasonal flu jab is routinely offered to everyone over 65 as well as younger patients who have long-term conditions such as asthma and diabetes.

It is redesigned annually to ensure it protects against the strains of flu in circulation, which tend to change every few years. Up to 15million people have the jab, which can reduce the risk of catching flu and especially the health complications it can cause. Although there is no evidence that the H1N1 vaccine is unsafe, many patients simply do not wish to have it. But they will not be able to protect themselves against the other two circulating forms of seasonal flu without being given the swine flu jab.

Professor David Salisbury, of the Department of Health said: “This year the swine flu virus will be one of the most common types of flu going around, and it is important to remind people to remember to get their annual flu jab.

“People should not underestimate the effects of seasonal flu. It is not the same as getting a cold. It can seriously affect your health and the risks of developing complications are greater if you have certain pre- existing medical conditions.

“If you are in any of the identified at-risk groups, my advice is to visit your local GP surgery and get the vaccination as soon as possible.”

However anti-vaccine campaigners said it was not fair to force patients to be vaccinated against swine flu if they only wanted protection against the other two. Jackie Fletcher from the vaccine campaign group JABS said: “At the very least there should be consumer choice so that patients can get what they want rather than this one-size fits all.

“We also want to know that the Department of Health carefully examine every adverse reaction to swine flu jabs, so we can be reassured the jab is safe”.

Figures show that there are 8,000 flu-related deaths in the winter months in England and Wales that could be avoided.

Unlike other countries, many in the UK are worried about vaccines. Of the 14million patients who were advised to have the swine flu jab, only around five million took up the offer.

Some refused because they were afraid it could increase their risk of a rare immune disorder known as Guillain-Barre Syndrome but studies have suggested this is not true.

Others were put off the swine flu jab over fears it could actually make them suffer swine flu. Again, experts have dismissed these claims.