More swine flu vaccine released as death toll rises to 50

LEFTOVER stocks of swine flu vaccine were released yesterday by the Government to tackle shortages after it emerged 11 more people have died from flu across the UK.

Nearly a quarter of critical care beds are occupied by people with the virus as swine flu takes its heaviest toll on the young and middle aged.

Of 50 people known to have died this winter from flu, five were under-five, eight aged five to 14 and 33 adults aged under 65.

Rates of patients visiting their GPs with flu-like symptoms fell last week in England.

The number was affected by the closure of many surgeries for Christmas but experts said there were indications it could be levelling off.

Latest figures show take-up of the seasonal flu vaccine among vulnerable groups is 10 per cent below the level at the same time last year.

In some parts, hospitals are cancelling operations to make way for the most seriously-ill patients.

The Department of Health claimed there was no national vaccine shortage but admitted some areas were experiencing "local supply issues".

Prof Dame Sally Davies, the interim chief medical officer for England, confirmed the Government would release leftover stocks of last year's swine flu vaccine for GP surgeries which have run out of seasonal flu vaccine.

She said: "We are hearing some stories of the (seasonal

flu) vaccine being in one place and the patient being somewhere else.

"The message to the public is if they need the vaccine because they are in an at-risk group, they should come forward because we have it in the system."

The vaccine will not give protection against all types of flu but will help against the H1N1 swine flu.

Prof David Salisbury, director of immunisation at the Department of Health, said GPs ordered stocks of seasonal flu vaccine every year based on estimates of how many people would come forward for the jab.

He insisted the swine flu jab would offer good protection to patients. "They are not getting a second-class vaccine. They are getting an effective vaccine and a safe vaccine which will protect them against H1N1, the dominant strain at the moment."

Among the latest fatalities was Sarah Applin, 32, from Suffolk, who died from swine flu complications two weeks after giving birth to a son.