Britain will be extending its seasonal flu vaccination program to all children for free, becoming the first country in the world to offer this, according to an announcement by the Department of Health on Wednesday.
The Huffington Post reports that children in the UK will receive the AstraZeneca nasal spray vaccine instead of injections under a new program, which will most likely cost more than 100 million pounds ($155 million) per year and will cover up to 9 million children once it is fully established.
Peter Openshaw of the centre for respiratory infection at Imperial College London stated that, while there are “areas of debate” surrounding the vaccination of healthy children as well as those in high-risk groups, he still strongly supports the plan. Openshaw stated:
“Not only would it protect children against flu but it would also reduce the circulation of flu in the population and … protect those at high risk of severe disease.”
The roll-out will take some time to complete, however, because AstraZeneca does not have enough flu vaccine to deliver at that capacity until at least 2014. While health experts are broadly welcoming the new program, they also caution that it will be important to keep up a constant monitor of responses, as well as working ahead of time to make sure that the new plan is accepted by the public.
According to the BBC, Chief medical officer for England, Prof Dame Sally Davies, stated that:
“Even with moderate uptake of 30% it’s estimated that this should result in 11,000 fewer hospitalisations and 2,000 fewer deaths each year. But we will aim to get a much higher proportion of children immunised and that will save even more lives.”
The injectable flu vaccine will still be offered to those who are over 65, pregnant, and also those with medical conditions like asthma.
Prof Adam Finn, who is a consultant in pediatric infectious diseases at Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, stated of the UK flu vaccine program that:
“This is a good idea as we know it’s effective and safe and flu can be a serious illness in childhood, not just in old age. There should be time to do some more research before we introduce the vaccine to help us predict how well such a programme would be accepted and would work.”
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Check out one viewer’s take on the UK flu vaccine program below: