As Scottish health chiefs confirmed yesterday that every child in Scotland between the age of two and 17 is to be offered a flu vaccine from next year, health campaigners claimed the programme will actually put children and others in the community at increased risk of contracting the virus and other health problems.
The Scottish Government says vaccinating children is a “cost-effective” way of cutting flu cases in adults, but campaigners said the proposed flu vaccine, Fluenz, a weakened form of the live virus which is administered using a nasal spray, is in fact “a very effective way to spread flu”. They highlighted warnings from the makers that there is a chance the virus in the vaccine could cause infection if it was transmitted to someone who has a weak immune system.
They also question why children’s health should be put at risk from vaccine side-effects, when children rarely suffer severe health problems from flu itself.
“This is going to cause more harm than good for children, and you have to ask who is really benefitting?” said Jackie Fletcher of JABS, the support group for families affected by vaccine-related health problems.
Fletcher also expressed concerns that because vaccines are being continually updated to respond to the latest flu strains, trials are limited, increasing the risk that harmful side-effects could be missed.
“The health department says vaccinating children will help prevent flu spreading throughout the wider population, but the elderly and other vulnerable people already have access to vaccines, so why do we need to give it to children who are usually less affected by flu?
“The pre-trials are just too small and not long enough for potential problems to show up. Yet the plan is to administer this to a huge group of children who are not necessarily going to get flu in the first place, and even if they do get it, are unlikely to have serious problems.”
The decision to introduce the vaccine programme has been made by the UK’s Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation, which sets out recommendations for the whole country. It estimates that there could be 2,000 fewer deaths from the flu each year if only 30 per cent of the country’s nine million children were immunised.
In Scotland, health chiefs were criticised two years ago for failing to inoculate all children against potentially fatal swine flu amid fears of an epidemic.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has recommended the vaccination of healthy children between the ages of two and 17 on cost-effectiveness grounds, as children both suffer from flu and are also likely to spread the virus to others. Increasing their immunity is therefore likely to reduce flu-related illness in children themselves and also reduce the spread to other more vulnerable groups.”