Lothian health chiefs urge people to take up flu vaccination
Another strain of the virus could be on the way
VULNERABLE groups in Lothian are being urged to take the opportunity to get vaccinated against flu amid fears a new strain of the highly infectious virus could be on its way.
Latest figures from NHS Lothian show the uptake of the flu vaccine this winter among most groups has been roughly the same as last year.
But lower rates were recorded for pre-school children, people under 65 with health issues and people with respiratory conditions.
Health chiefs said it was not too late to get vaccinated and urged these groups to do so to protect themselves against the virus.
Professor Alison McCallum, NHS Lothian’s director of public health, said: “Flu is more than a bad cold and can make people very unwell. It’s highly infectious with symptoms that come on quickly and can hit anyone.
“In the most serious cases, flu can bring on pneumonia, or other serious infections which can, in extreme cases, result in death.”
There were concerns in Lothian before Christmas about the supply of the nasal spray used to give the vaccine to children.
Deliveries of Fluenz Tetra were delayed throughout the UK because of issues with routine testing by the manufacturers.
And even after supplies did arrive, some surgeries in the Capital ran out, leaving worried parents fretting.
Figures show that while uptake by over 65s in Lothian had reached over 74 per cent one week from the end of the year, equalling last year’s total, and uptake among primary pupils was 69 per cent - again the same as last year - only 47.3 per cent of pre-school children had had the vaccine, well down on the 60 per cent last year.
The statistics also show the uptake of the vaccine among people under 65 considered to be at risk was 37.1 per cent compared with 43.1 per cent last year.
And it was 43.7 per cent among people with respiratory problems compared with 56.2 per cent last year.
Health chiefs say there is no evidence the number of people suffering flu this year is any worse than last year or an average year.
But the Evening News revealed in the run-up to Christmas how several schools had seen large numbers of pupils absent for several days at a time with a winter bug which produced flu-like symptoms.
A total of 135 youngsters at Edinburgh’s Gaelic primary, Bun-sgoil Taobh na Pàirce, in Bonnington Road were affected at the end of November.
And five other schools in the Capital also had significant absences, bringing the total number of children reported as being ill to 420, including 111 at Buckstone Primary, 72 at Granton, 43 at Dalry, 33 at Niddrie Mill and 26 at Ratho.
The flu season began slightly earlier than usual this winter, with the first cases seen in November, but that does not mean it will end earlier and the NHS is prepared for it to run until March.
The predominant strain of flu in Scotland so far this winter has been Type A, which is normally the most common.
But health chiefs in Lothian warn there is the potential for a different strain - Type B - to arrive later in the season, adding to the case for getting vaccinated.
The symptoms for both types of the virus are the same and both are highly contagious. Although Type B has often been seen as less severe, recent research has suggested it can be just as serious.
The vaccine being used this year covers four different strains of flu including two Type B strains.
Lothian MSP and Tory health spokesman Miles Briggs claimed the poor uptake of the vaccine among under-fives was because the supply of the nasal spray had been “botched”.
Across Scotland, the proportion of two to five year olds who had been given the vaccine by the week before New Year was 42.8 per cent compared with 52.1 per cent the previous year.
Mr Briggs said: “We still have huge numbers of children who haven’t been vaccinated because of a delivery issue.
“I strongly encourage any parents whose kids haven’t had a flu vaccination yet to get one at their local GP.”
NHS Lothian stressed there was no longer any shortage of vaccine including the nasal spray for under-fives, which it said was why it was encouraging parents to get their children vaccinated.
Professor McCallum said: “Influenza is still circulating and it’s not too late to get vaccinated.
“We encourage anyone under 65 with long term health conditions and children aged between two and five to get vaccinated. It’s the best way to protect against the flu virus. It’s very safe and protects you for around a year.”