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Will you have the jab? SUNDAY FOCUS: Facts on swine flu vaccinations.

The first people to be vaccinated against swine flu received their jabs this week, as the national death toll rose and schools in Wales had to shut their doors for cothe first time because of the outbreak. Wales on Sunday answers your questions about the vaccine, and the latest swine flu situation Q. How has the outbreak progressed in Wales this week? A Two more patients with swine flu died, bringing the total Welsh death toll to seven. Describing the fatalities as "personal tragedies", health officials said the number of deaths so far was not unexpected.

But warning of further flu-related deaths this winter, the Government predicted fewer people will be affected by the H1N1 virus - about 12% of the population or 360,000 people in Wales - than previously thought. Meanwhile two Carmarthenshire schools were forced to shut early for half-term by the outbreak, becoming the first in Wales to do so.

Q. Do the school closures mean all schools will follow suit? A. No. Pontyberem and nearby Cefneithin primary schools closed because there were so many members of staff affected by swine flu-like symptoms.

But officials have stressed that the closure of schools is a matter for individual institutions and that mass closures are not currently being considered. Education Minister Jane Hutt has urged schools to do all they can to remain open in the face of outbreak.

Q. This week also saw the first Welsh people vaccinated against swine flu - so who exactly will be offered the jab? A. Those most at risk of serious illness and complications from swine flu will be among the first to be offered the new vaccine.

Frontline health and social care workers will also be offered the vaccine in a bid to ensure that services can be maintained if large numbers of people fall ill with swine flu over the coming months.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has agreed that the following groups will be the first to receive the jab: People aged over six months and under 65 years, who are in the current seasonal flu vaccine clinical at-risk groups; All pregnant women; household contacts of people with compromised immune systems - people in regular close contact with patients on treatment for cancer; and people aged 65 and over in the current seasonal flu vaccine clinical at-risk groups.

The Welsh Assembly Government estimates that 750,000 people in Wales fall into the priority and at-risk groups.

Q. Why aren't people over 65 who are otherwise healthy being offered the vaccine? A. This group of people are routinely offered the seasonal flu vaccine but they will NOT be offered the swine flu jab if they do not have any underlying health conditions.

This age group is not considered to be particularly at risk - the majority of people who have fallen ill are 45 and under.

Q. Will otherwise healthy adults and children be offered the swine flu vaccine? A. The UK has ordered enough vaccines to cover the whole population but a decision has not yet been made about whether the vaccination programme will be extended beyond the current at-risk and priority groups.

Q How will I know if I'm among the priority groups first being offered the vaccine? A. GPs will write to patients who fall within the priority groups to offer them the chance to be vaccinated. Members of the public will be given the jab at their GP surgery.

Occupational health teams will identify those frontline health and social care workers who are eligible for the vaccine.

Q. How many injections do I need to have? A. Two vaccines made by GlaxoSmithKline (Pandemrix) and Baxter (Celvapan) have been licensed for use.

Most people who are given the GSK vaccine will only require one injection. But children aged between six months and nine years, those people who are severely immuno-compromised, and those receiving the Celvapan jab will need two doses, three weeks apart.

It is understood that the majority of vaccines ordered in Wales have been manufactured by GSK but which vaccine people get depends on their GP and their individual circumstances.

Q. Is the vaccine safe? A. Drug companies started making the swine flu jab almost as soon as the new H1N1 strain emerged and some clinical trials have been carried out.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that the regulatory authorities for medicines have carefully examined the known and suspected risks and benefits of any vaccine before they were licensed.

And it said that the results of those trials that have so far been completed suggest that pandemic vaccines are as safe as seasonal influenza vaccines.

Side-effects are expected to be similar to those associated with seasonal flu vaccines and include reactions at the injection site and possibly some systemic reactions, such as fever, headache, muscle or joint aches.

But these should be mild and last one to two days.

WHO is advising all countries administering pandemic vaccines to conduct "intensive" monitoring for safety and to report adverse events.

Q. Why won't the normal flu jab be enough to protect me? A. The normal flu jab is designed to protect at-risk groups against the seasonal strains of the flu virus that circulate every winter.

It does not protect against pandemic flu.

Q. Should I still have the seasonal flu vaccine? A. It is thought that the majority of cases of flu this winter will be caused by swine flu, rather than normal seasonal flu.

The experience of southern hemisphere countries suggests that 80% of flu was caused by the H1N1 pandemic virus.

But although there are likely to be fewer cases of seasonal flu it remains a potentially lethal virus that can be dangerous for people at risk, especially the elderly.

Q. Should I leave a gap between having the seasonal flu and swine flu jabs? A. Advice from the Assembly Government states that the swine flu jab can be given at the same time as other vaccinations, including the seasonal flu jab.

But if two jabs are being given, it is recommended that they are given in different arms.

Q. What if I don't want the swine flu jab? A. Like other vaccines, the swine flu jab is not compulsory and people offered it do not have to have it.

But Dr Jewell has urged those in the priority groups, especially frontline health and social care staff to take up the offer.

Q. Do I need the jab if I've already had swine flu? A. No - but only if you're one of the 200 people in Wales to have had a positive laboratory test.

Health officials caution that some people who think they've had swine flu may actually have mistaken it for one of the many viruses circulating at any one time in Wales.

Q. Can I get the swine flu vaccine if I'm planning on going on holiday this winter? A. No, unless you are offered the jab because you are in an at-risk or priority group.

Dr Hayes said: "The early supplies are being prioritised for the high-risk groups so we do not have enough vaccine to give for social reasons."

The risk of catching swine flu is considered to be the same in the UK and abroad because the virus is the same.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Oct 25, 2009
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