Flu spray to combat school 'virus factories'

The Government's experts have pondered long and hard before recommending that kids between two and 17 should be given a flu vaccine from 2014. Why? Well first some facts.

Giving this vaccine will be a logistical nightmare. The target is to give the vaccine in a nasal spray in the six weeks before the flu season starts every year (two doses the first year and one thereafter) to nine million youngsters. Schools and GPs will be pressed into the campaign.

For a start there isn't enough vaccine and there's only one manufacturer. That's why it won't start until 2014. Then there's the bigger potential problem of persuading parents to get their children vaccinated. That's why its a nasal spray that means less distress. And its free on the NHS.

What's more some kids with chronic illnesses are in high-risk groups that are already entitled to a free jab. A mass vaccination campaign for all kids should make sure more of them get protected.

But the main reason for the childrens' vaccination is to curb the spread of flu. Schools are virus factories. One kid with flu goes to school and next week half the school have got it.

Vaccinating children will slow down the spread of flu. The Government's expert commitee estimates it could cut the number of flu cases by 40 per cent and the number of deaths by 2,000 a year.

An influenza virus particle. Credit: Reuters/Centers for Disease Control/Handout

The trouble is most of those seriously affected or killed by flu are elderly. So the greatest benefit will accrue NOT to the group being vaccinated but to another population group.

Nevertheless the expert advisers reckon the savings from less flu and fewer patients in hospital will outweigh the £100 million cost of the campaign.

And children will benefit. With less flu about, they will be less likely to catch a disease which is, at best, miserable, and at worst, can make them seriously ill. And probably more children in high risk groups will be protected.

And in any case, isn't it a public spirited act to get your children vaccinated with an easy and safe vaccine against a virus that can kill thousands every winter?