The "worried well" are being given vital influenza vaccines intended for the sick and vulnerable, the Department of Health said yesterday. As many as one in four vaccines may be given to people who do not fall into high-risk groups.
The flu vaccine is intended for people with chronic heart or chest complaints, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, lowered immunity, or any other serious illness, as well as for the elderly living in residential homes.
This year, 6 million doses will be available at a cost of pounds 30m. But uptake by high-risk groups is estimated at no more than 50 per cent. A study in Leicester showed that up to 45 per cent of hospital admissions due to flu complications could be saved by targeting those most at risk.
Dr Jon Van-Tam, lecturer in public health medicine and epidemiology at University Hospital, Nottingham, who conducted the Leicester study, said that flu vaccination could reduce by 60 per cent hospitalisation for diseases such as flu, pneumonia, bronchitis and emphysema. The last big flu outbreak in 1989 led to around 27,000 deaths. Doctors believe 75 per cent of such deaths could be avoided by repeat vaccination.
However, research in GP practices by Dr John Watkins, director of primary health care at Gwent Health Commission, found that in 25 per cent of cases the vaccine did not go to people in high-risk groups.