Immunisation programme could save 2,000 lives annually
All UK children are to be given annual flu vaccinations after experts said it could save up to 2,000 deaths a year.
The scheme, which is expected to be rolled out in 2014, will see all children aged 2–17 given the vaccine through a nasal spray.
Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, said if 30% of children took up the offer, there would be 11,000 fewer hospital admissions and 2,000 fewer deaths each year.
Younger children will be given the intranasal spray at their GP practice and pupils in school.
The decision comes after Health Secretary Andrew Lansley asked the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), a body of independent experts who advise the Government, to look at the evidence around extending the programme.
The experts said offering the vaccination to all children could reduce the rate of infection by 40%.
Currently children with asthma, heart conditions or cerebral palsy are eligible to receive the flu vaccine on the NHS.
The UK will be the first country to offer the flu vaccine to healthy children free of charge.
The programme will cost more than £100m and will be offered to up to nine million children.
The Department of Health said the most significant challenge would now be in sourcing enough new vaccine, which is manufactured by MedImmune, the biologics division of AstraZeneca. There are also not enough school nurses available to administer the vaccine in schools.
AstraZeneca markets the intranasal vaccine as Fluenz in Europe, and MedImmune has received marketing authorisation in the US, where the product is branded as Flumist.
The DoH said MedImmune would not have the capacity to deliver enough new vaccine until 2014 at the earliest.
In the meantime, the priority remains to increase injectable vaccine uptake in at-risk groups such as those aged 65 and over and those with diabetes, asthma and those with neurological conditions and pregnant women.
Davies added: ‘Severe winter flu and its complications can make people really ill and can kill, particularly those who are weak and frail, which is why we already offer vaccinations to the most at-risk groups.
‘We accept the advice of our expert committee that rolling out a wider programme could further protect children.’