HEALTH Minister Edwin Poots has extended the flu vaccination programme to all children in Northern Ireland from the autumn of 2014.
The Minister said that children in at risk groups, such as those with asthma, heart conditions or cerebral palsy, are already eligible to receive the flu vaccine from their own GP. Following a recommendation from Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), and advice from his officials, he has decided to extend the vaccine to all children aged between two to 17 years, free of charge.
The target date is Autumn 2014 and the programme will use a nasal spray vaccine.
“There will be significant challenges to delivering an extended programme that will require up to 400,000 children to be vaccinated during a six week period and we will look at the recommendations in detail to decide how best to develop and deliver the programme," said the Minister.
The JCVI, a body of independent experts who advise the four UK Health Ministers, looked at the evidence around extending the flu vaccination programme. The experts have concluded that while there are significant challenges involved in extending the programme, they are outweighed by the health benefits that a comprehensive immunisation programme could bring.
Last year saw very low levels of flu, and healthy children are amongst the group least likely to develop complications from being infected. However, children’s close contact with each other means they are more likely to transmit the virus to other more vulnerable groups – including infants and the elderly.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said: "Seasonal flu can be a very serious illness, particularly for those in the at risk groups which is why we already offer vaccinations to these people.
“We accept the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) that rolling out a wider programme could protect children and help to further protect our most vulnerable members of society. In the meantime, for the forthcoming flu season, our priority remains to ensure a high uptake rate is achieved in the at risk groups including pregnant women.”