Swine flu vaccine
[Would you buy a used car from this man? He has form as well, see: Donaldson. CMO--the official Voice of Sauron, like the Chief Dental Officer trying to poison us all with fluoride.]
Last updated at 10:02 AM on 04th September 2009
Forecast slashed: Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson has lowered estimates for the potential swine flu death toll
Deaths from swine flu could be less than half the annual toll from the usual winter flu, it emerged last night.
The news came as an expert accused ministers of an 'alarmist' response to the outbreak.
England's chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson was forced to admit yesterday that the worst case scenario had been slashed by two thirds from 65,000 deaths to 19,000.
After millions were spent on antiviral drugs and telephone hotlines, he revealed the toll could be as low as 3,000 - less than half the number who die in an average flu season.
Even a total of 19,000 deaths would be 2,000 lower than the number who died in the last major seasonal flu epidemic of 1999-2000.
The startling admission comes only weeks after Health Secretary Andy Burnham said there could be as many as 100,000 new swine flu cases a day.
In fact it emerged that last week there were now fewer than 650 new cases a day.
Sir Liam is facing growing criticism that he caused panic as the virus turns out to be much milder than originally feared.
Yesterday he unveiled new guidance for the NHS, describing a range from 3,000 deaths to a 'worst case scenario' of 19,000 - significantly lower than the 65,000 he warned of in July.
Sir Liam said the revised figures, from Government scientists, were 'assumptions and not predictions', and they do not include an assessment of the impact the swine flu vaccine - due in October - may have.
The 19,000 figure is based on 30 per cent of the population getting the disease, and a death rate of 0.1 per cent - or one in 1,000.
Other figures released yesterday showed there were an estimated 4,500 new diagnoses of swine flu in England in the past week.
This is a slight drop on the 5,000 cases reported in the previous week and down from a high of around 100,000 cases a week more than a month ago.
The number of deaths in England linked to the virus stands at 61, up from 57 last week. Across the UK there have been 70 deaths.
Sir Liam said he had been looking carefully at data from Scotland, where
schools returned from their summer break earlier than in England.
Experts have predicted a surge in the number of swine flu cases once schools and universities go back across the UK.
But Sir Liam said 'there is no suggestion of any significant upturn in Scotland', adding that England was unlikely to see a peak 'before the second half of October'.
News of the reduced death forecasts came as an expert wrote in the British Medical Journal that the Western response to the outbreak of swine flu had been 'alarmist, overly restrictive, or even unjustified'.
Peter Doshi, a doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said actions were taken 'in an environment of high public attention and low scientific certainty'.
He called for a new framework for dealing with epidemics, saying a single, one- size-fits-all public health strategy cannot respond to the 'vastly different challenges' posed by the different types of threat in the world.
'Experts are unsure that the 2009 pandemic will be any worse than seasonal flu,' he said. 'Officials responded to the H1N1 outbreak as an unfolding disaster.'
He added: 'If the 2009 influenza pandemic turns severe, far exceeding the impact of seasonal influenza, early and enhanced surveillance may prove to have bought critical time to prepare a vaccine that could reduce morbidity and mortality.
'But if this pandemic does not increase in severity, it may signal the need to reassess both the risk assessment and risk management strategies towards emerging infectious diseases.'
Yesterday the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and the Business Continuity Institute said businesses should be prepared for a 'significant' increase in absenteeism.
Companies should be prepared for up to half of their staff being off work sick for two to four weeks because of the expected second wave of swine flu cases later this year.
• A swine flu sufferer who had been through the ravages of chemotherapy was saved after being given the antiviral drug Relenza intravenously.
The 22-year-old woman's immune system had been impaired by the chemotherapy, but she survived a serious case of swine flu after being treated with the unlicensed intravenous form of Relenza, the Lancet medical journal reported.