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LONDON, England - Millions of Britons started to be vaccinated for swine flu Wednesday with the country's chief medic urging all priority groups to take up the offer of immunization.
The program, which offers more than 11 million people the vaccine, began with hospitals immunizing 2 million health workers and their patients against the disease.
Liam Donaldson, chief medical officer for England, said frontline health and social care workers must get themselves vaccinated against swine flu along with other groups classified as a "priority" or at risk, such as pregnant women and some children.
He said: "This is the first pandemic for which we have had vaccine to protect people. I urge everyone in the priority groups to have the vaccine - it will help prevent people in clinical risk groups from getting swine flu and the complications that may arise from it."
Several other countries have started immunization programs, including the United States, Australia and China.
There are two types of the vaccine available: the flu shot, an inactivated vaccine containing fragments of killed influenza virus, and a nasal spray, which is made using a weakened live flu virus.
The nasal spray will most likely be the first to be widely distributed, however certain groups, including pregnant women, young children and people with compromised immune systems, cannot receive the nasal spray.
So far U.S. health officials say that in clinical trials they've seen no serious side effects and that study subjects who have been immunized have generated a good response.
Swine flu has infected almost 400,000 people since April, of whom more than 4,700 have died, according to the World Health Organization. But these are small numbers compared to those who die every year from malaria, AIDS or even normal influenza. So are we giving swine flu too much prominence compared to other diseases? Send us your comments and we'll try to use them in tonight's show.