Children could soon be given annual flu vaccinations at school to prevent spread of illness across all age groups
Experts advising Government say the vaccine should be given to everyone from five to 17 on the NHSVaccine will not be offered until 2014 at the earliest

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UPDATED:

15:54 GMT, 29 May 2012

All children could soon be given annual flu vaccinations at school, it has emerged.

A panel of experts advising the Government say the vaccine should be given to everyone from the ages of five to 17 on the NHS.

At present, it is only offered to the over 65s, pregnant women and anyone with an underlying health condition such as asthma or diabetes.

Advise: A panel of experts say a nasal flu vaccine should be given to everyone from the ages of five to 17 on the NHS

Advise: A panel of experts say a nasal flu vaccine should be given to everyone from the ages of five to 17 on the NHS

But the Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) believes that immunising children would help prevent the spread of the illness across all age groups.

Many youngsters catch flu at school or nursery and pass it on to family members, including pregnant women and grandparents who may be more vulnerable.

But the experts recommend that the vaccine is not offered until 2014 at the earliest to allow enough time to buy in stocks and launch awareness campaigns.

They believe children should be given a nasal spray – rather than an injection – as this is safer and more effective for younger age groups.

It would be administered by school nurses – and vaccinations would likely take place in early autumn when other patients receive their jabs.

Although this winter’s ‘flu season’ was mild, last year’s was particularly severe and led to 474 deaths.

At a meeting held last month, the JCVI concluded that ‘influenza vaccination of children is likely to be a cost effective public health intervention.

'If we can reduce the infection rate among children we can reduce the morbidity and death rate in the community generally, and especially among the elderly'

The minutes of the meeting – uncovered by GP Magazine – said it could ‘appreciably lower the public health impact of influenza in the UK'.

Dr George Kassianos, a GP in Berkshire who sits on the Royal College of GPs’ immunisation committee, said: ‘It will be beneficial to children and will benefit other patients as well.

‘If we can reduce the infection rate among children we can reduce the morbidity and death rate in the community generally, and especially among the elderly.’

The exact costs of offering the jabs to all children is not known but it would likely run into several millions of pounds.

But the experts believe that overall, the NHS would actually save money as fewer people would become ill and need treatment.

A Department of Health spokesman said that committee was not recommending that the jabs were offered immediately, as a number of issues still needed to be considered.

They added: ‘Extending the vaccination programme to healthy children would be a huge undertaking, increasing the number of people who get the vaccine, so it is important that we get this decision absolutely right.’