AFTER years of trying to persuade those entitled to their free flu jab to come forward, doctors are now being deluged with requests for vaccinations.

The media has reported how some surgeries have run out of the vaccine, in part, because the "well worried" have been queuing alongside the "at risk"groups.

So why the panic, and should we all be asking our doctors for the jab?

York GP Dr David Fair, of Jorvik Medical Practice, said if there were the resources, it would be reasonable for everyone to have the jab.

"I think there is worry in general, but I think people have realised that in the past when they had their flu jabs they might have had some side effects, and a mild dose of flu," he said.

"That doesn't tend to happen anymore, and I think people have realised a prick in the arm from a doctor or nurse is a small price to pay to avoid being laid up with flu."

"In the current system where there aren't sufficient funds and resources then the 'at risk' groups are given the vaccination because they're the most likely to need hospital admission or to die if they catch flu.

"But it would be reasonable for anyone to ask for it to protect themselves from getting flu if it was free and there were unlimited resources."

In Britain, the flu jab is available on the NHS to the over-65s and people who suffer from high-risk diseases such as asthma, diabetes and serious lung and heart conditions.

Vaccines can be given at a GP's discretion, but will not normally be provided to people outside the "high risk" groups.

Many companies provide free annual flu shots to their employees, and private clinics also offer the jab, at a cost of about £25 a head.

Dr Fair said prices could vary greatly for jabs at a private clinic.

"I suppose it depends what job you have as to whether or not it's worth paying for a jab; if you get paid a thousand pounds a day and flu would keep you off for a week then paying some money to stop you getting flu might be worth it."

Today, Downing Street confirmed an extra 200,000 jabs were being sought from the manufacturers by December.

Rachel Johns, director of public health for Selby and York Primary Care Trust, said: "We have seen an increase in the number of people taking up their free flu vaccination."

She said: "Stocks of the flu vaccine are currently low. We applied for an additional batch of vaccines and are monitoring the situation regularly."

Dr Fair said: "In future I hope the Government realises that it would be better for the whole country, industry and economy if they were to think about providing drugs for the whole population."

Dr David Geddes, Selby and York PCT's medical director, said: "Flu can have some serious consequences for people suffering from heart disease, as well as for older people and others who are 'at risk'.

"Flu is a serious illness and 'at risk' patients can require hospitalisation as a consequence."

He said: "The flu jab can't give you flu, but provides this vital protection; it only takes a couple of minutes to get your flu jab, so you should contact your local GP surgery to make an appointment."

The flu jab is updated each year to protect against the latest strain of the flu virus.

This year, preparations are also in place to combat the affects of a possible outbreak of avian flu, were it to become contagious to humans, with a separate programme of immunisation.

Tips to boost your immune system

By Helen Spath

Try echinacea - despite recent bad publicity, using the licensed form of Echinacea can shorten the duration of an illness and support your immune system. Take it when you start to feel ill or as a maintenance dose, throughout the winter. Useful to take when people around you start to fall ill.

Garlic can help fight bacteria and infection

Zinc and Vitamin C supplements both support your immune system

Astragalus can support your immune system and fight off infections

Lemon and honey are great to soothe a sore throat

Propolis is also good for sore throats

Updated: 10:49 Friday, November 25, 2005