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Flu Jab: A sinking feeling about this Titanic problem
About the author: 

Doctors fear that millions of elderly people are at considerable risk because of the poor distribution of this winter's flu vaccine

Doctors fear that millions of elderly people are at considerable risk because of the poor distribution of this winter's flu vaccine. Just over one-third of the 13.2 million Britons who supposedly need the vaccine have been immunised, and, as a result, thousands of lives are at risk, they fear.

Delivery of the vaccines has been slow. One doctor, whose surgery in North Wales had received just 50 doses for 1,800 patients, said that selecting people for the jab was "like picking 50 people to get in a lifeboat off the Titanic."

This graphic image assumes that the vaccine will actually protect people, which is news to Dr Tom Jefferson, who reviews vaccine effectiveness and safety.

He points out that the flu virus is made up of 200 different agents, while the standard vaccine is designed to fight just two of them.

His view is supported by studies that reveal that the vaccines had "little or no effect" on time missed from work, hospital stays or death.

Despite this year's distribution problems, overall immunization rates among the elderly have risen substantially in the past few years, while flu-related deaths in the same group has remained exactly the same.

With that in mind, perhaps the more appropriate Titanic analogy would be the one about shuffling the deckchairs around while it's sinking.

(Sources: The Times, November 23, 2006; British Medical Journal, 2006; 333: 912-5).


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