60m flu campaign

Free jabs for 6.5m old folk to beat winter killer.

by Beezy Marsh, Medical Reporter

MILLIONS of pensioner8 are being targeted in the biggest-ever flu vaccination campaign.

The 6Omillion programme was launched after it emerged that the virus killed more than 20,000 elderly victims last year, the highest toll for a decade.

The Government has expanded its’ free jabs offer to include everyone over 65—a total of 6.5million people. A further 25million patients of all ages who suffer from diabetes, lung ailments such as asthma, kidney problems and heart disease will also be contacted by their GPs.

Health ministers are keen to avoid another flu epidemic of the severity which brought the NHS to breaking point last winter.

Last year only half of the over-75s were vaccinated, but the Dept of health now hopes to achieve 60 per cent coverage.

A national advertising campaign will be spearheaded by former boxing champion Henry Cooper.

He is 66, but a survey by Age Concern has revealed almost half of the over-65s do not believe they are at risk of flu, despite the severe complications caused by the Illness.

Campaigners said elderly people were reluctant to accept they were in danger because of ‘fear of old age’ and ‘unwarranted’ concerns about the safety of the vaccine. Government Chief Medical Officer Professor Liam Donaldson said: ‘I think people are familiar with the concept of flu, but this survey has suggested that older people do not realise the full significance of it.

‘Many of them think they are unlikely to get it, and if they do they will recover. We are anxious to correct this misapprehension.

‘In older people, as we saw last year, flu can be life-threatening, we had the highest number of flu-related deaths In ten years.

We had the highest number of flu-related deaths in ten years.

The study found that 47 per cent of people over 65 thought they were unlikely to get flu, while a third believed that if they did fall ill they would ‘easily’ get over the virus.

A third of those questioned said they were concerned about the side-effects of the vaccine. Only 59 per cent intended to have the jab.

An Age Concern spokesman said: ‘Older people are reluctant to view themselves as an especially vulnerable group. They don’t want to be singled out - it is a kind of fear of old age. People have to accept that they are vulnerable and protect themselves.’

A total of 10.5 million doses of the vaccine — which costs the NHS 8 a jab - will be available to GPs from the beginning of October until the end of November.

Hospitals and residential care homes are also being advised to protect staff, but must order separate stocks of the vaccine and pay for it out of their own budgets. This years vaccines are designed to protect against the three forms of flu the World Health Organisation believes will be most prevalent - the Yamanashi strain from Japan, the New Caledonia and the Panama.

b.marsh@ dailymail.co.uk