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U.K. plans massive swine flu vaccination

July 16, 2009
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The medical establishment in Britain, the nation hardest hit by swine flu outside North America, is scrambling to roll out a large-scale vaccination program in an effort to protect its population against a virus that threatens to spread rapidly in coming weeks, reports the Wall Street Journal. It isn''t yet clear how many doses will be needed per person, but many flu experts believe it will be two. Since the spring, 17 Britons have died after being infected with the H1N1 virus that is causing the swine-flu pandemic, according to U.K. officials. The U.K. recently recorded its first swine-flu death in an otherwise healthy patient, an event that set off further concern, even as other deaths, including that of a 6-year-old girl last week, have gained attention. As of July 6, the U.K. had 7,447 confirmed cases, ranking the country fourth in the world, behind the U.S., Mexico and Canada, according to the World Health Organization''s most recent figures. Worldwide, 429 people have died from swine flu and 94,512 have been infected, according to the WHO. The number of cases in the U.K. is several times greater than in any other European country. The country has ordered enough vaccine to cover all 60 million of its residents. The government plans to offer everyone free shots as soon as they become available, a Department of Health spokeswoman said. It won''t require people to get the shots, but will make vaccine available to everyone. The health department expects the first doses to arrive in the fall, and will start vaccinating certain groups first, including healthcare workers, children and pregnant women. The U.K. expects enough vaccine for 30 million people, or about half the population, to be available by the end of the year, the health department spokeswoman said. The companies supplying Britain with the vaccine -- GlaxoSmithKline PLC and Baxter International Inc. -- have already won preliminary approval for their pandemic vaccines from the European Medicines Agency, or EMEA, Europe''s top medicines regulator. Preliminary approval is possible because flu vaccines are generally made in the same way, with the same basic ingredients. The main element that changes is the type of virus used in the vaccine. A public awareness campaign organized by the Department of Health has taught people how to avoid infection, which should help reduce infection rates. Ads telling people to wash their hands frequently and cover their sneezes have been running for months in women''s magazines, bus stations, and on the London Underground, as well as on supermarket trolleys and ATM screens. Swine flu leaflets were delivered to every house in the U.K.
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