Government play down flu epidemic fears
Under-fives were excluded from this year's flu vaccination programme on medical not cost grounds, the Government insisted today as it played down concerns that the UK was headed for an epidemic.
The Department of Health defended its handling of the winter outbreak amid Labour criticism of the lack of dedicated protection for young children and the decision to axe the annual flu-jab awareness campaign.
Days after the latest figures showed a dramatic rise in the number of flu cases, shadow health secretary John Healey accused ministers of leaving youngsters at risk.
The Daily Telegraph said the decision not to offer jabs was a cost-cutting measure - saving £85 million - and reported that doctors were concerned that next week's return to school could spark the first epidemic for a decade.
But the DoH denied Health Secretary Andrew Lansley had "cancelled" the programme, saying he had simply accepted the advice of the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
It had initially said that it would be "prudent" to repeat last year's jabs for youngsters but dropped that recommendation in revised advice in July, officials said.
"Our influenza immunisation programme has been designed to protect those particularly at risk from serious disease, either from influenza itself or in whom influenza would make their underlying disease worse," the DoH said.
"This means that we use an age and risk group-based approach in line with most other countries that have seasonal influenza vaccination programmes. We continue to monitor the current situation very carefully and JCVI keeps the policy for seasonal influenza vaccination under review as well."
Mr Healey told the Daily Mail: "The serious problem lies with the groups that are most at risk, like children. That has come because the Government axed the annual advertising campaign and they cancelled the flu jab plan for the under-fives.
"The Health Secretary has been silent. The only attention he's paid to preparations for this winter's flu outbreak was to axe the autumn advertising campaign to encourage people to get vaccinated and make them aware of the risks.
"He made the wrong judgment which has left many people without the flu protection they should have."
But Mr Lansley renewed his insistence that the publicity campaign was not required.
"There is no additional merit in a vaccination advertising campaign for the general population when there is already a targeted approach for those who need to be called," he said.
"We urge those who have been contacted to respond positively."
On Friday, official figures showed the number of people in critical care with confirmed or suspected flu in England had risen to 460 - more than double the figure of a week before.
Of those, 366 were aged between 16 and 64, 51 were aged 65 and over, 26 were under five and another 17 were aged between five and 15. Nine children are among the 27 people to have died from flu this season so far.
Among the fatalities, 24 had swine flu. Three suffered from another strain, flu type B, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) said.
Responding to claims the return to school could result in the first flu epidemic for a decade, a DoH spokesman said: "Any predictions on flu in 2011 are entirely speculative.
"There could be an increase in cases or just as easily very few cases amongst school children."
- 1 Moscow voted the world's unfriendliest city
- 2 The excuses your boss is most likely to believe when you call in sick
- 3 I'm pansexual – here are the five biggest misconceptions about my sexuality
- 4 More than 11,000 Icelanders offer to house Syrian refugees to help European crisis
- 5 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don’t change Europe’s attitude to refugees, what will?
The excuses your boss is most likely to believe when you call in sick
Bono's group has made more money from Facebook investment than from all his music
Three-year-old ultra-Orthodox Jewish children told 'the non-Jews' are 'evil' in worksheet produced by London school
Wikipedia rocked by 'rogue editors' blackmail scam targeting small businesses and celebrities
More than 11,000 Icelanders offer to house Syrian refugees to help European crisis
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches, it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don’t change Europe’s attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...
£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...