Vaccinating children against flu may be an effective way of protecting the rest of the population, researchers have concluded.
Extending the annual flu jab to children under two could reduce infection by more than a third, according to a team at the Health Protection Agency (HPA). Its finding, published in the journal Vaccine, comes after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation considered and rejected the idea in 2006, but said it was ready to consider new evidence.
Children have low immunity and close contact with their families makes them prolific spreaders of viruses. But there are doubts about the side effects of the vaccine, which would have to be given annually.
In the US, children are offered flu jabs from the age of six months to five years. In Britain, the annual flu vaccination campaign is limited to the elderly and those with chronic conditions, such as asthma, that put them at risk of serious illness from infection with the flu virus.
The HPA researchers calculated that immunising children between six months and two years would reduce flu in the population by up to 35 per cent. Extending the annual jab to those up to the age of five would reduce it by up to 69 per cent in one strain and 38 per cent in another.
The Royal College of GPs said it had been calling for a child flu vaccination for five years. But Dr Keith Prowse, chairman of the British Lung Foundation, said yesterday: "Vaccinating all children annually would be a huge undertaking that should not be taken lightly."