THE entire UK population is to be vaccinated against swine flu following the death of the first healthy British patient.
The NHS will receive the new vaccine in the next few weeks and is expected to fast-track the drug through regulatory approval within five days.
Scottish ministers are currently drawing up plans to decide which population groups should be first to be vaccinated, following reports there will not be enough for the Scottish population until November 2010.
The NHS is understood to be planning to vaccinate as many as 20 million people in Britain before the end of the year.
The move comes after the death of an Essex man on Friday who was the first person without underlying health problems to have died after contracting the virus.
Yesterday Peter Holden, the British Medical Association's lead negotiator on swine flu said GP surgeries were gearing up for one of the biggest vaccination campaigns in almost 50 years.
"If this virus does (mutate] it can get a lot more nasty, and the idea is to give people immunity. But the sheer logistics of dealing with 60 million people can't be underestimated."
He said the principal goal was to vaccinate all those who would traditionally be at risk of the winter flu virus such as the old, the pregnant and those who have kidney and renal diseases. He stressed the reason public vaccination was taking place was not because the virus was perceived as a killer but that society could not cope with a high percentage of the population off work ill. The jabs would also reduce the number of people who require hospitalisation.
Mr Holden said there will be enough vaccines available to allow the inoculation of all those at higher risk by the end of the year.
Regulators at the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) said the vaccine, which is being supplied to the UK by GlaxoSmithKline and Baxter Healthcare, could be approved for use within five days. The EMEA said clinical trials have taken place on a "mock-up" vaccine, similar to the one that will be used for the biggest mass vaccination programme in decades.
However, the regulators said the decision to fast-track the drug would not be at the expense of the public's health.
A spokesman said: "The vaccines are authorised with a detailed risk management plan. There is quite a body of evidence regarding safety on the trials of a mock-up and the actual vaccine could be assessed in five days."
The government has ordered enough vaccine to cover the entire population of 60 million and GPs across Britain are being told to prepare for a nationwide vaccination campaign.
However, NHS Scotland chief executive Kevin Woods recently said in a letter to local NHS board officials: "According to current delivery estimates vaccine for 100 per cent of the population could be received by November 2010."
Yesterday a spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: "We have said that a vaccine is being worked on and the plan is to vaccinate everybody."