All Children Under Five To Get H1N1 Jab

(Reuters) – BRITAIN WILL EXPAND its H1N1 flu vaccination programme to all children between 6 months and 5-years-old (some 2.7 million people) the government’s health chief said today.

Although infection rates of swine flu are dropping and worst-case forecasts have been sharply revised down, Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson said young children were still at significant risk.

‘Whilst we are seeing these relatively high numbers of people, particularly children, in hospital and intensive care, I think we are not taking so much interest in the overall trend, we are more interested in continuing to fight the disease,’ Donaldson told a news conference.

He declined to say if the virus was now definitively in decline. ‘I think it’s just really too early to say,’ he said. New cases of swine flu in England continue to decline, with 53,000 recorded last week, down from 64,000 the week before.

But cases of children under 5 being hospitalised due to H1N1 have spiked in recent weeks — above July levels when infections last peaked. A total of 214 people have died of the virus in the United Kingdom.

With the decision to vaccinate even healthy children, more than 12 million people in Britain are now eligible. Many European countries have begun vaccinating against H1N1, usually targeting at-risk categories first.

A first phase of the vaccination programme, launched last month, targeted pregnant women, front-line healthcare workers, and other people considered ‘high-risk.’

But a survey this week in doctors’ magazine Pulse showed a majority of them had declined to take the virus, possibly due to scepticism over the severity of the pandemic.

Donaldson, whose own survey showed 73% of parents would vaccinate their children, dismissed that report.

‘If the readers of Pulse (general practitioners) had done a study of that sort and submitted it to a reputable medical journal it wouldn’t have been published. It was a very small scale poll of GPs,’ he said.

GlaxoSmithKline Plc, AstraZeneca Plc, Novartis and Sanofi-Aventis are among about 25 manufacturers producing H1N1 vaccine around the world.