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Flu vaccination to be rolled out to all children over two years old

The Department of Health has announced a major extension of the flu vaccination programme to include all children aged two years and over, and not just those in at-risk groups.

The preferred delivery method will be a nasal spray vaccine in a programme designed to prevent 11,000 hospitalisations and around 2,000 deaths a year as a result of flu.

Children in at-risk groups – such as those with asthma, heart conditions or cerebral palsy – are currently eligible to receive the flu vaccine on the NHS, but this programme will now be extended to all children aged between two and 17 years.

The DH said it was still finalising how the programme would be delivered, including whether GPs or school nurses would be responsible for the bulk of the programme.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley asked members of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to decide whether such a programme would be cost-effective.

They concluded in May that though there will be significant implementation challenges, a schools-based programme in the over-fives would be ‘highly cost-effective’.

But the DH has decided a broader programme in all children aged two years and over was warranted, making the UK the first country in the world to immunise all children against flu. The £100m programme could be rolled out as early as 2014 and will be offered to up to nine million children.

Even with moderate vaccination uptake, the DH estimates there could be a 40% drop in the number of people affected by flu. The biggest benefit will be protecting very young infants, older people and those in at-risk groups such as those with asthma, diabetes or heart disease.

Chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies said:‘We accept the advice of our expert committee that rolling out a wider programme could further protect children. Even a modest take-up would help protect the most vulnerable.

‘There are significant challenges to delivering a programme that requires up to nine million children to be vaccinated during a six-week period, and we will look at the recommendations in detail to decide how best to develop and deliver the programme.’

Story updated 12:02