Page last updated at 04:59 GMT, Monday, 4 August 2008 05:59 UK

Child flu jabs 'protect everyone'

Emma Wilkinson
Health reporter, BBC News

Dr Richard Halvorsen and Emma Soames discuss the flu jab

Vaccinating children against flu would prevent the spread of the virus in the whole population, research suggests.

An annual flu jab for the under fives could reduce some types of infection by up to 70%, a team at the Health Protection Agency reported.

They say immunising children would particularly protect the elderly.

Children are prolific spreaders of infection because they have lower immunity and come into close contact with their families and each other.

The findings prompted calls for a reassessment of government policy.

In the US, flu vaccination is already offered to children aged from six months to five years.

I would say parents in the UK would probably turn around and give it a thumbs down, so the JCVI will want to be 100% sure of the evidence
Professor John Oxford

But in 2006, after reviewing the evidence available at the time, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) decided not to recommend a similar programme in the UK.

The elderly and people with high-risk conditions, such as asthma, are offered a flu vaccine every year.

The latest study estimated the effects of vaccination in the under-twos, under-fives and under-16s on two types of flu.

It showed that the more children who received vaccination, the greater was the protection to the population in general.

If an annual vaccination programme included everyone under the age of 16, the incidence of both influenza A and influenza B could drop by more than 90%, the researchers found.

Just immunising those aged between six months and two years would reduce flu in the population by between 11% and 35%, depending on the strain.

'Not real data'

But including those up to the age of five years could reduce influenza A by up to 38% and influenza B by up to 69%.

FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME

In the model the researchers assumed that 60% of children were vaccinated.

A spokesperson for the JCVI said it was keeping the issue under review and was awaiting the outcome of further studies being done on the effects of flu vaccine in children.

Dr George Kassianos, immunisation spokesperson for the Royal College of GPs, said the college had been calling for the introduction of influenza vaccination in children for the past five or six years.

"The children themselves fare very badly from influenza but they are also the source of infection for many adults.

"There is an urgent need for the JCVI to review their decision."

Professor John Oxford, an expert in virology at Barts and The London, Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry said the evidence all seemed to be pointing towards a benefit.

But he added: "This is mathematical modelling which is not quite the same as getting real data.

He added: "I would say parents in the UK would probably turn around and give it a thumbs down, so the JCVI will want to be 100% sure of the evidence."

Dr Keith Prowse, chairman of the British Lung Foundation, said: "Vaccinating all children annually would be a huge undertaking and one that shouldn't be taken lightly.

"The rationale, benefits and implementation would have to be very carefully explained and communicated to the population at large and a decision taken in consultation with all interested parties."


SEE ALSO
Child flu jab 'veto' questioned
09 Feb 07 |  Health
Young 'should get pandemic jab'
11 May 06 |  Health

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