» Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Flu Vaccinations

Asked if Government departments had offered their staff flu vaccinations, the PMOS said it was important to get the issue in context. 14 million doses of influenza vaccine were ordered this year, and we reckoned that there were 11 million people in the "at risk" group. As with many large organisations, government departments could and did offer priority staff flu vaccines, but that was the same as with any big organisation. What that did not do, however, was impact on the GPs’ flu vaccine stocks, because they were all ordered at the same time. As the DH had made clear, it had released an extra 400,000 vaccine stocks because of the increase of demand and they had also ordered an additional 200,000 which would arrive in time for January. The PMOS told journalists what seems to have happened was that the publicity in terms of avian flu had increased the number of people who were not in the "at risk" category had applied for a flu vaccine, even though we had stressed that we did not believe that the normal flu vaccine would be effective against avian flu.

Asked if all departments would have given key staff a vaccine, and would that include Secretaries of State and Ministers, the PMOS said we did not get into commenting on individual Ministers or their staff. However, it was normal in most large organisations for vaccinations to be given to be priority staff.

Asked if the 14 million figure was the global figure for the entire country, the PMOS said his understanding was that a record 14 million doses of vaccine were available this year, but he recommended that the journalist spoke to the DH for clarification.

Asked if any Minister had received a flu vaccination, the PMOS replied he was going to get into people who had or had not received an injection. He was also, however, not going to be defensive about it, as large organisations, both in the public and private sectors, as a matter of course quite rightly offered this to their key staff.

Asked how many key staff did receive a vaccination, the PMOS said people should not misunderstand the issue. The number of staff who were given a vaccination did not in any way impact on the "at risk" category.

Put that it did impact, because at the moment, the DH had said they were running out of stock, the PMOS said the flu jabs were ordered earlier in the year, and a count was taken of the members of staff who would normally be offered the vaccine. Also taken account of were the 11 million people who would normally be at risk. The additional demand had not come from the "at risk" category, but rather from the increase in the number of people who were the "concerned well" and who had requested a vaccine from their GP.

Asked if they were hypochondriacs, the PMOS said the journalist was entering very dangerous territory!

Asked for further clarification on the term "concerned well" or "worried well", and had it come about as a result of concern over bird flu, the PMOS said that because of heightened media reporting, more people outside the "at risk" category had asked their GP for a vaccination. The difference between 11 and 14 million at risk was to allow a certain number of people outside the "at risk" category to be vaccinated. That number had increased this year.

Put to the PMOS that the Foreign Office (FCO) had said that they were not offering vaccines to their staff because of a shortage, so why did one department offer vaccines, but not another, the PMOS said this was because the number of people who would in any normal year be vaccinated was counted for as part of the advance order made earlier in the year. In other words, whenever the vaccinations were planned, they were counting in the number for the priority staff.

Asked why did the FCO not offer their staff the jab, the PMOS said he would need to speak to the FCO to find out.

Asked for clarification on the 3 million other people who were not in the "at risk" categories, and were they the organisations and companies etc, the PMOS said that was correct, according to his understanding.

Put to the PMOS that the Treasury had said the Chancellor had not had a flu jab, but had the Prime Minister had a vaccination, the PMOS replied that we did not comment on the Prime Minister’s health.

Asked if that was a split story, the PMOS said: no, we were just being consistent in our usual practice in not giving a running commentary on the Prime Minister’s health.

Briefing took place at 14:00 | Search for related news

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