Belfast Telegraph

Poots urges parents to make sure their children get the flu vaccine

Stormont Executive press release - Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety

Health Minister Edwin Poots has announced that the first phase of the extended flu vaccination programme to all children in Northern Ireland will begin from the autumn of 2013.

This will see children aged two and three years old being offered vaccination by their GPs, and primary 6 children being offered vaccination by the school health service.

The Minister said: “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 the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), and advice from my officials, I have decided to roll out the extended programme over the next few years, beginning this year with all two and three year olds and children in primary year 6.

“Next year it is intended to offer the flu vaccine to all pre-school and primary school children and from the autumn of 2015 to all children aged two to 16 inclusive.

“I would urge all parents and guardians of eligible children to take up this offer of free flu vaccination whenever the programme begins this autumn.”

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.

The children’s flu programme will use a nasal spray vaccine.

Education Minister John O’Dowd commented: “The school health service within the trusts will be issuing letters to parents or guardians seeking their permission to vaccinate their children. I would ask all parents to respond as quickly as possible to these letters and get their children vaccinated against the flu.”

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.

“I would however still urge those in an at risk group including pregnant women to take up the offer of vaccination whenever they are called by their GP.”

Notes to editors:

1. The flu vaccine, Fluenz has been recommended by JCVI as the vaccine of choice for children. Fluenz was used in Northern Ireland during the 2012/13 flu vaccination programme.

2. The programme will begin on the 1 October. The majority of vaccinations will be carried out during October and November in advance of the flu season which normally begins by mid to late December.

3. Further information can be found at http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/flu-vaccine-for-children

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