Under-fives were excluded from this year's flu vaccination programme on medical, not cost grounds, the Government insisted yesterday 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 children at risk.
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.
It had initially said that it would be "prudent" to repeat last year's jabs for children 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.
Mr Lansley repeated 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.
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