The Health Minister is yet to decide whether a programme being rolled out across the rest of the UK to offer the flu vaccine to children will be introduced in Northern Ireland.
It has been announced that the scheme, which is expected to be implemented by 2014, will see all children aged two to 17 given the vaccination through a nasal spray.
Under the plans, younger children will be given the spray at their GP’s practice and schoolchildren will receive it at school.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises the Government on vaccination policy, said the flu programme should be extended to children because it could reduce the rate of infection by 40%.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has accepted the recommendation, a Department of Health spokesman said.
However, a spokeswoman from Northern Ireland’s Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety said Edwin Poots (below) has not yet made a decision on the matter.
She said: “The minister is considering the recommendation of the JCVI to offer flu vaccine to all children aged two to 17 years.”
At present, over-65s, pregnant women and people with a serious medical condition, including children, are eligible for a seasonal flu jab.
The UK will become the first country to offer the flu vaccine to healthy children free of charge.
The mass immunisation programme is estimated to lead to 11,000 fewer hospital admissions and 2,000 fewer deaths every year.
The Department of Health has to examine a number of issues before the programme’s roll out.
Supplies of the vaccine, which will be used on about nine million children, need to be sourced and a decision needs to be made on who will deliver the vaccine — whether it should be school nurses or other healthcare workers.
Some health experts have raised concerns about the resources required to deliver the vaccine.
David Elliman, consultant in community child health at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital, said: “School nurses are already very hard stretched. If this is just added into their workload, it will devastate their morale.”
The flu vaccine is advised for people who:
- are 65 years old or over;
- are pregnant;
- have a serious medical condition;
- are living in a long-stay residential care home or other long-stay care facility;
- are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person;
- are a frontline health or social care worker.