Scots children to get annual flu vaccine in bid to save 200 lives
CHILDREN in Scotland will be given free seasonal flu vaccines in a bid to save up to 200 lives a year, it was confirmed yesterday.
The move comes after the UK government announced that all children in England aged two to 17 are to be given the vaccine free every year from 2014.
The Scottish Government then said the initiative would be introduced in Scotland, but could not confirm when it would start or how the vaccines would be given out.
The NHS at present only gives free flu vaccines to the elderly and other “at risk” patients, such as people with chronic illnesses and health workers.
England yesterday became the first country in the world to introduce the free vaccines to children, who will be given the drug through a nasal spray.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which advises the UK government on vaccination policy, said the flu programme should be extended to children because it could reduce the rate of infection by 40 per cent. Pre-school youngsters will get the vaccine, which costs about £11 a dose, at their GP surgeries and older children at school.
The Scottish Government said the initiative would be rolled out to include Scotland, but that its logistics, including the start date and way it would be administered, were still being finalised. The move could save 200 lives in Scotland every winter.
Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: “We will be looking at the recommendations closely to decide how best to implement the programme.
“The evidence from the committee suggests that extending vaccination to include children will help to reduce the spread of flu, as children are more likely to spread the virus, and increasing their immunity is likely to reduce the spread to other, more vulnerable, groups.
“Until the new programme is implemented, all children deemed to be ‘at risk’ will continue to be part of the existing vaccination programme.”
Westminster is expected to spend about £100 million a year on the programme, which could see up to nine million youngsters vaccinated. In Scotland the scheme is expected to cost in the region of £10m a year.
Children are the least likely to develop complications if they catch flu, but their contact with each other means they are more likely to transmit the virus.
The mass immunisation programme is estimated to lead to 11,000 fewer hospital admissions and 2,000 fewer deaths in England every year. Experts say the programme will take six to eight weeks to carry out.
Doctors welcomed the programme, but said they understood some parents could be anxious about vaccinating healthy youngsters.
Dr Hilary Cass, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “We can be confident this proposal is in the best interest of children.”
About one in ten people develops flu every winter. Flu is often spread through coughs and sneezes.
It can also be caught by touching contaminated surfaces.
Although children are less likely to die of flu than the elderly, they can get sick enough to require hospital treatment.
Many others are ill enough to need time off school, which is disruptive for families.
The vaccine takes around ten days to work and will protect people against strains of seasonal flu, including swine flu, for about a year.
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Tuesday 21 May 2013
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