The swine flu vaccination programme began on 21 October 2009 and the highest-risk groups were offered the vaccine.
Vaccination for those in the initial clinical at-risk groups will continue over the summer.
Vaccination for healthy children under five years stopped at the end of March 2010.
Who will get the vaccine?
The groups of people most vulnerable to serious illness from swine flu are being offered the vaccine. These are:
- People aged between six months and 65 years in the seasonal flu vaccine at-risk groups (listed below)
- All pregnant women
- People who live with someone whose immune system is compromised (for example, people with cancer or HIV/AIDS)
- People aged 65 and over in the seasonal flu vaccine at-risk groups.
The seasonal flu vaccine at-risk groups are people with:
- Chronic lung disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis and cystic fibrosis. Also included are people with severe asthma who need to continuously or repeatedly use their inhaler or take steroid medication, or who have been admitted to hospital because of their asthma.
- Chronic heart disease, including heart failure, congenital heart disease, and heart disease caused by high blood pressure.
- Chronic kidney disease, such as kidney failure and people who have had a kidney transplant.
- Chronic liver disease, such as cirrhosis and chronic hepatitis.
- Chronic neurological disease, such as stroke, Parkinson's disease, cerebral palsy, motor neurone disease or multiple sclerosis.
- Immunosuppression (a suppressed immune system), due to disease or treatment. This includes people who have a damaged or no spleen, people having chemotherapy or other immunosuppressant treatment, and those on high doses of steroid medication.
Healthy people aged over 65 are not a swine flu priority group as they appear to have some natural immunity to the swine flu virus. Surveillance has shown fewer swine flu cases in people over 65 than in younger people.
Pregnant women, however, are a priority group as they are more vulnerable to complications following swine flu infection (see Advice for pregnant women).
The vaccination programme
The swine flu vaccination programme began on 21 October 2009.
Vaccination is not compulsory. As with any vaccination, everyone has a right to refuse it.
The swine flu vaccine can be given at the same time as other vaccines, including the seasonal flu jab. If you are normally advised to have the seasonal flu vaccine each winter, you need to continue to receive this every year to ensure that you are protected against most of the flu strains in circulation.
The following vaccination schedule is recommended in the UK:
- Healthy children aged over six months and below 10 years:
- a single dose of 0.25ml.
- Immunocompromised children aged over six months and below 10 years:
- two doses of 0.25ml given at least three weeks apart.
- Healthy children aged 10 years and over or healthy adults:
- a single dose of 0.5ml.
- Immunocompromised children aged 10 years and over or immunocompromised adults:
- two doses of 0.5ml given at least three
- All children aged over six months and below 10 years:
- two doses of 0.5ml given at least three weeks apart.
- All children aged 10 years and over or adults:
- two doses of 0.5ml given at least three weeks apart.
This dosage schedule is based on advice given by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, following consideration of clinical data available on the vaccines. The dosage and recommendations will be kept under review as more clinical data become available.
Effectiveness of the vaccine
Seasonal flu vaccines give around 70-80% protection against infection with flu virus strains. Because the swine flu vaccines are an exact match to the swine flu strain that is currently circulating, they should give at least this amount of protection.
The government will be able to to measure the effectiveness of the swine flu vaccines once they are in use against swine flu.
The swine flu prototype vaccines have been clinically tested and shown to produce good immune system responses, and have an acceptable safety profile. The insertion of the H1N1 strain into the vaccine should not substantially affect the safety of the vaccine in the same way that annual modifications to the seasonal flu vaccine do not (see About the seasonal flu vaccine).
The swine flu vaccine should provide protection against the pandemic strain of swine flu for several years following vaccination. As well as offering protection against the serious effects of swine flu, it may also help to reduce the spread of the infection.
The government takes decisions about introducing a new vaccine very seriously. Vaccines would not be licensed if they were considered unsafe.
Similar flu vaccines containing a different flu virus strain (H5N1) have been clinically tested and the trials showed that these vaccines are safe and produce enough antibodies to provide protection.
Experience with seasonal flu vaccines has shown that changing the strain of virus in a vaccine does not substantially affect the safety profile of the vaccines.
But, as with any new vaccine, some very rare side effects cannot be identified or excluded until the swine flu vaccines are used in much larger numbers of people in the general population.
Outcomes of trials to date suggest that pandemic vaccines are as safe as seasonal flu vaccines.
There is no evidence that inactivated vaccines, such as the swine flu vaccine, will cause any harm to pregnant women or their unborn baby. Every year, the seasonal flu vaccine is given to pregnant women who are at risk of seasonal flu.
The Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) of the European Medicines Agency has given a clear recommendation that the GlaxoSmithKline vaccine Pandemrix can be given safely to all pregnant women.
The Department of Health have recently published an information briefing on vaccination and pregnancy.
For more information and advice see 'Vaccination and pregnancy'.
More on the vaccine:
Why are pregnant women in one of the priority at-risk groups for vaccination?
Is the vaccine safe for people with an egg allergy?
What are the ingredients in the vaccine?
Will the vaccine still provide people with protection if the virus mutates?
Is there a link between Guillain-Barre syndrome and swine flu vaccines?