CHILDREN aged two to 16 in Mid-Ulster will now be offered the flu vaccine.
The Public Health Agency (PHA) has just launched the first phase of a programme that will offer the vaccine to children aged two and three years and to those in school year primary six.
Dr Richard Smithson, Consultant in Health Protection at the PHA, explained that the flu virus spreads easily and quickly, infecting both adults and children alike.
During the autumn, all healthy children in the phased introduction groups, which are children aged two and three years on 1 September this year and those in primary six, will be offered the vaccine as part of the seasonal flu programme.
Dr Smithson pointed out that flu can cause the same unpleasant symptoms in children as it does with adults – fever, chills, aching muscles and joints, headache and extreme tiredness. These symptoms can last between two and seven days and for some can lead to serious illness and result in a stay in hospital.
“The flu virus spreads through the air when people cough and sneeze without covering their nose and mouth, and because young children don’t always cover their noses or mouths when coughing or sneezing, the virus can spread very quickly among them,” he explained.
Most children will receive the vaccine via a quick and painless nasal spray. The nasal vaccine is being used because it has been shown to provide greater protection for children than the flu injection.
“We can therefore be very confident in knowing that it is a safe and effective vaccine,” Dr Smithson pointed out.
He is encouraging parents of all two and three year olds and primary six children to take up the offer.
Primary six children will receive the vaccination at school and two and three year old children will receive the vaccination through their GP surgery. At-risk children of all ages should continue to receive the flu vaccine as they have done in previous years.
Health Minister Edwin Poots said children in ‘at risk’ groups, such as those with asthma, heart conditions or cerebral palsy, are already eligible to receive the flu vaccine from their own GP.
“I would urge all parents and guardians of eligible children to take up this offer of free flu vaccination whenever the programme begins this autumn,” added the Minister.
The extended flu vaccination programme is being phased in over several years to enable arrangements to be established for full implementation and will eventually cover all children aged between two and 16 years.
For more information about the flu vaccine for 2013/14,visit www.fluawareni.info, or speak to your GP, nurse or member of staff within the school nurse team.