* Poll shows only 46 pct of those offered vaccine accept
* Doctors say pregnant women particularly reticent
* Health officials say “too early to speculate” on uptake
(Adds government response, paras 10 and 11)
By Kate Kelland
LONDON, Nov 18 (Reuters) - More than half of Britons being offered vaccination against pandemic H1N1 flu are turning it down because they fear side-effects or think the virus is too mild to bother, a survey of doctors showed on Wednesday.
Many of the 107 family doctors polled by Britain’s Pulse magazine said there was widespread resistance from patients and on average only 46 percent of those offered the vaccination agree to have it.
Doctors reported particular difficulties in persuading pregnant women to be vaccinated against the virus, according to Pulse, a trade newspaper for doctors.
“In all the pregnant women we’ve offered it to, I think only about one in 20 has agreed,” Dr Chris Udenze, a family doctor based in Nottingham, central England, said in the survey.
Scepticism has been growing in Britain and other European countries about health authorities’ handling of the H1N1 pandemic because the number of people infected has been lower than originally feared.
Britain began a vaccination programme on Oct. 21 for high-risk hospital patients, front-line healthcare workers, children in seasonal flu risk groups, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems.
British health authorities have twice revised down their worst-case scenarios for H1N1 flu, which was declared a pandemic in June and has killed more than 7,000 people worldwide, according to latest data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Original estimates that as many as 65,000 could die from H1N1 in Britain have now been cut to a prediction of around 1,000 deaths — way below the average annual toll of 4,000 to 8,000 deaths from seasonal winter flu.
Richard Hoey, Pulse’s editor, said his survey showed that many patients, and a substantial number of doctors were “unconvinced there is sufficient evidence that swine flu vaccination is safe and necessary”.
A spokesman for the government’s health department said it was “too early to speculate on uptake rates” for H1N1 vaccines but that doctors were working hard to reach as many patients as possible with their initial supplies.
“We recommend that people in the at risk groups accept the offer of vaccination,” he said. “People in the risk groups are more likely to be severely ill if they catch swine flu, and the vaccine provides the best protection against the disease.” (Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)