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Government told to start Hib boosters for all infants

Government vaccine advisers have recommended every child between six months and four years receive a booster vacc-ination against Haemophilus influenza type b. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is concerned the effect of the Hib vaccine, given to children at two, three and four months, wears off over time.

Latest figures from the Public Health Laboratory Service show rates of Hib infection in the under-fives have increased four-fold from 0.68 per 100,000 in 1998 to 2.81 in 2001.

The joint commitee has advised the Department of Health to begin a one-off catch-up vaccination programme, immunising all children currently between six months and four years old with an extra dose of the vaccine.

Committee members said at their last meeting that although the UK programme had been highly successful, 'further enhancement of immunity appears necessary'.

Dr Mary Ramsay, consultant in public health at the Public Health Laboratory Service's immunisation division, said many cases of Hib were occurring in children whose immunity had declined after getting the vaccine.

'We really need to do this now,' she warned. 'Everybody under four years old is at increased risk.'

Dr Ramsay said it was not yet known whether a routine booster would have to be added to the vaccination schedule. 'The campaign, if it goes ahead, would be a temporary holding measure. Once that's happened we'll be able to see whether we need a booster in the long-term,' she added.

GPC joint-deputy chair Dr Hamish Meldrum said GPs would be paid for giving the extra Hib dose as an additional service under the new contract. 'We're still discussing ways additional services will be funded,' he said. 'It will almost certainly not be funded by an item-of-service fee.'

A department spokesman said it was still 'considering options' for the vaccination campaign.

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