Babies and children * Young people * Healthy living

Healthy under-fives to get swine flu jab

Zone default image Group most at risk of being hospitalised

Healthy children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years will be vaccinated against swine flu starting from next month, the Department of Health has announced.

The vaccine is currently available only to children who are already in the high risk groups.

The news came as the number of new swine flu cases fell for the second week running. Last week an estimated 55,000 people were infected with the H1N1 virus in England compared with 64,000 the week before.

The number of people visiting their doctor with flu-like illness also dipped slightly to 36 per 100,000 people compared with 37.7 in the previous week, but still above the baseline threshold levels for England.

To date, the number of deaths linked to the virus stands at 215: 142 in England, 39 in Scotland, 21 in Wales and 13 in Northern Ireland. A total of 783 were admitted to hospital due to the virus, with 180 in intensive care.

The latest figures to be released by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) show that young people in the 1-4 and 5-14 age groups continue to be the most affected by swine flu.

Approximately 21% of swine flu deaths in the UK have occurred in under-14s. Ominously, 80% of children in the under-5 age group needing hospital treatment had no underlying health problems.

Commenting on plans to extend the vaccination programme to the under-5s, Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson said: “Our first priority is to ensure that people with clinical risk factors, and front line health and social care staff are vaccinated.

“Protecting those most at risk from the disease will reduce the levels of serious illness, and deaths. That’s why we will shortly offer the vaccine to young children.

“Vaccination remains a personal choice, but I urge everyone who is offered the vaccine to accept it and protect themselves. While the risks of serious complications from ‘flu may be small, the impact on those affected can be devastating.”

Professor Steve Field, Chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, added: “We shouldn’t underestimate swine flu – it is a nasty infection and its effects can be devastating.

"I know that some parents have concerns about immunisation but the swine flu vaccine is our most effective protection against the virus. This is obviously a personal choice but I would advise all parents whose children are offered the vaccine to take it up.

"If you are worried, please talk to your GP and get all the information so that you can make an informed choice.”

An estimated 715,000 people in the UK have been infected with the virus. Most illness caused by the virus is mild, but can be severe in a small minority of cases.

Swine flu symptoms in children

How to take a child's temperature

This article was published on Fri 20 November 2009

Image © CDC C. S. Goldsmith and A. Balish

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