Flu jabs for children must be tied to clear message for parents

Plans to extend flu vaccination to healthy children must be backed by a campaign to convince parents that their children will benefit, the DH director of immunisation believes.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has said that all school-age children should be immunised against flu. The committee is expected to make its formal recommendations to ministers later this month.

DH director of immunisation Professor David Salisbury believes parents will not think about an annual flu scheme for healthy children in the same way as they do other jabs.

Speaking to GP at an event marking 20 years of haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccination, he said the current flu programme was ‘seen differently’ to the childhood immunisation programme.

‘That’s not a programme in the same way that the infant programme is a routine programme,’ he said. ‘That’s an annual campaign for a specific thing for people with risk factors. It is seen differently.’

Professor Salisbury added that if schoolchildren were included in the annual flu programme, parents would need to be given clear messages about the benefits of vaccination.

‘The discussions that we’ve had, and the market research we’ve done with parents, is quite complicated,’ he said. ‘Parents realise that flu can be serious, but they often didn’t realise that children get flu, and so they need to have that message made clear.'

‘Children get flu and children give flu to other people and that actually it is in your child’s interest not to get flu,' he added. 'So I think that is part of the package that we would need to work on.’

Professor Salisbury said the Hib programme had shown the importance of having a strong communications plan in place to support vaccine roll-out.

‘There was a very strong communication programme beforehand and that was necessary, because we were dealing with a disease that the public didn’t know about,’ he said.

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