Vaccinating children against flu is likely to be a “cost effective” public health policy that could reduce the impact of the illness in the UK, Department of Health advisers have said.
Targeting school-aged children for an extension of the programme would be the most cost-effective option, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said.
But the committee warned that such a move - a “huge” expansion of the childhood immunisation programme - would be expensive and would receive a mixed reaction from the public and health professionals.
There would have to be an “extensive” public information campaign before such a programme was introduced, the committee said.
There are also currently too few school nurses to implement such an expansion, the committee said, warning that it would be “vital” that it did not adversely affect current immunisation programmes.
“Resources should not be removed from the current national immunisation programme or from local immunisation-related resources to implement and deliver an expanded influenza vaccination programme,” the committee said in draft minutes published on the Department of Health website.
“Furthermore, it would be inadvisable to introduce this very large immunisation programme into the NHS until the large scale restructuring of the health and public health system in England had been completed and the new system was running smoothly.”
At present, over-65s, pregnant women and people with a serious medical condition, including children with such conditions, are eligible for a seasonal flu jab.
The illnesses include heart problems, chest problems such as asthma or bronchitis, kidney or liver disease, diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
The minutes have been published after health secretary Andrew Lansley asked the JCVI to look at whether the flu vaccination programme should be extended.
A Department of Health spokeswoman stressed that no recommendation on a schools based flu vaccination programme had been made by the committee.
“The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has said it is unable at this stage to recommend an extension of the flu vaccination programme as there are a number of issues that it believes need further consideration - for example, the public response to such a programme,” she said.
“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.
“In the meantime, we continue to recommend that people in at-risk groups, 65s and over and pregnant women, do get vaccinated - they are the most at risk from suffering complications.
“The JCVI is clear that is the current priority.”
Dr David Elliman, a consultant in community child health based at the Whittington and Great Ormond Street hospitals in London, said there was evidence that some members of the JCVI were not convinced of the benefits of such a programme.
“It is clear that there are some unanswered questions,” he said.
“I would like to see the raw data and, of course, it would partly depend on the uptake that you got.
“If you only have got a few children relatively speaking having it, it would probably make little difference to the herd immunity effect.”