North's health minister pledges flu vaccines for entire population

There will be enough swine flu vaccines for every man, woman and child, the North's health minister promised today.

There are six illness cases under investigation but none have been confirmed to have the potentially deadly strain.

Minister Micheál McGimpsey briefed ministers and Stormont’s Health Committee today.

“We are preparing for the worst but we are hoping for the best,” he said.

It will be three to six months until a vaccine is prepared but the minister said there would be two for every man, woman and child in the UK.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has upgraded the level of threat.

A total of 14 individuals have been tested but cleared in the North.

The minister added leaflets about the risks would be reaching householders by Tuesday and urged anybody suffering symptoms to contact a GP and stay at home. A phoneline has been established.

Mr McGimpsey said: “Our main message to the public is not to be alarmed about recent developments but to be prepared for a potential pandemic.

“We have been planning for a situation like this for some years. In fact the UK is recognised as among the best prepared for any potential pandemic.

“The preparations we have in place and are continuing to make, will help us respond well in the event of a pandemic.”

Acting chief medical officer Elizabeth Mitchell said there were enough masks for all health care professionals but warned members of the public not to panic.

“We are confident that our health service will be able to step up and ramp up and deal with the situation.”

She added members of the public wearing masks could be enjoying a false sense of security and urged them to practice good personal hygiene.

Masks being sent to surgeries are equipped with respirators.

There are around 1,000 people across Ireland travelling in Mexico.

Dr Mitchell said: “Evidence to date suggests that, other than in Mexico, the majority of cases have had a relatively mild flu-like illness which responds well to treatment with antivirals.”

An emergency control centre has also been set up at Stormont to deal with any outbreak.

Ballygawley GP Dr Theo Nugent is at the front line.

“Nothing that we do is zero risk but we have been pretty well briefed on what to do and what not to do,” he said.

He has received no calls to his surgery but said colleagues were fielding alerts.

The free-phone helpline number is 0800 0514 142.


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