Thursday, 12 November 2009

Swine fever

Over the last month or so, anyone who is over 65, pregnant or has a chronic health condition has been invited to their surgery for their annual flu vaccination, courtesy of the NHS. They come, year after year, to endure the puncturing needle in the hope that they may be spared that grim, sweat dripping, limb aching, all flattening illness that is the flu.

This year however, things have been a little different. This year of course, we have swine flu.

Since April 2009 the world has been obsessed with swine flu. Unsurprisingly the media has been only too happy to add drama to every twist and turn, and so by the time cases began to spread across the UK, word on the street was that this one really might be the killer pandemic we had all been fearing.

Forget bird flu, a piggy variant was now on the rampage.

This week, after much procrastination, surgeries across the UK will receive their first supplies of the swine flu vaccination. Perhaps it is a little surprising then, that rather than being met with trumpet sound and wild cheering, nobody actually seems to want it any more. Time and time again over the last month, when poised to jab someone with their flu vaccination I have heard the words, "I don't want anything to do with that swine flu jab, it's not in this one is it?"

So why this sudden change of heart? Why, when only a few months ago we were gladly chewing on Tamiflu at the first sign of a cold, do we now not want the protection offered by a vaccine?

The problem is that the great swine flu scare has simply gone on for too long. The media have lost interest and we've lost interest. But there also seems to be a sense of anger, that we have somehow been taken for a ride. It's still too early to tell whether swine flu will live up to its fearsome expectations, but there seems to be a general assumption that it won't, and with this a perhaps inevitable loss of confidence in the people who have been advising us.

Actually, in my opinion, the Department of Health has handled the pandemic in an organised and efficient way, delivering updated information and management strategies as quickly as it was able. The Royal College of General Practitioners continues to send at least weekly emails to us GP's, ensuring that we have always had the best information to hand. No, the real culprits in my mind are the media, who have been at best a nuisance, and at worst, irresponsible. They're certainly the reason that I'm sick to death of swine flu.

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