Vaccinating children against flu could protect the whole population, research by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) suggests.
The overall incidence of flu could be reduced by as much as 97 per cent if children aged six months to 16 years were vaccinated, according to long-term mathematical modelling which assumed that 60 per cent of the targeted group were vaccinated.
The authors of the study say that simply vaccinating infants aged six months to two years could reduce the incidence of influenza A by 21 per cent, while vaccinating those aged six months to five years would reduce incidence by up to 35 per cent.
A spokesperson for the HPA said: 'These results are very preliminary and require more analysis and study before any final conclusion can be made.'
Professor Steve Field, chairman of the RCGP told GP: 'Influenza kills and the cost to the economy is enormous with the number of admissions to hospital.
'This is the first study that looks at the effect of herd immunity, and now we have to look at the cost benefits of a vaccination programme.
'The predictions look interesting and if these are supported by other work then there is good potential.
'The question for me is logistically how do we manage this mass vaccination programme across the UK and hit the right people.'
But Dr Keith Prowse, chairman of the British Lung Foundation, warned: 'It is important to remember that this type of vaccination programme wouldn't prevent epidemics of illnesses like Hong Kong flu because these are variants on the influenza virus which no-one would be protected against.'
In 2005, the government's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) ruled against a mass vaccination campaign. The JCVI said that flu immunisation for children remains under review pending further work on potential impact and cost effectiveness.
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