Belfast Telegraph

Ulster boy (2) with swine flu dies

A two-year-old boy suffering from swine flu has died in Northern Ireland.

The infant was from the Republic but was receiving intensive care treatment north of the border, according to the Public Health Agency.

The PHA said, at the family's request, no further details of the case would be released.

"The Public Health Agency would like to extend its sympathy to the family of this child," said a PHA spokeswoman.

The death takes to 18 the confirmed number of people with the H1N1 virus that have died in Northern Ireland this flu season.

Information on whether the child had an underlying medical condition is not being released.

But the fatality will nevertheless put further pressure on the authorities to re-think the policy decision not to vaccinate all under-fives against the virus, something which was done last year. Only infants in 'at risk' health categories are being vaccinated.

Stormont Health Minister Michael McGimpsey, who offered his condolences to the boy's family, said medical advisors remained of the opinion that the vaccination programme should not be extended.

"I am deeply saddened by the death of this child and offer my sincere sympathy to the family," he said.

"My thoughts are with them at this very difficult time.

"I understand that this news may heighten public anxiety, particularly among parents of young children.

"I have recently spoken to other UK health ministers about Northern Ireland's current flu picture. I have also spoken to Mary Harney, the Republic of Ireland's health minister.

"In addition, I have consulted with the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) about the particular circumstances here. They do not recommend extending the vaccination programme beyond the current at-risk groups."

Northern Ireland's Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride said: "Every death is a tragedy, particularly that of a child. I wish to extend my sincere sympathies to the family of this child.

"The important message is that anyone in an at-risk group who has not yet been vaccinated should do so as soon as possible.

"We continue to offer vaccinations to any child under five in an at-risk group as advised by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

"The question has been posed if we should extend to healthy under-fives.

"I know the JCVI is keeping this under close and active review and we will continue to be guided by their expert advice.

"I also want to assure the public we have a safe and effective vaccine available in Northern Ireland to provide protection against swine flu. GP practices should continue to order the vaccines they require through the normal channels."

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