There are insufficient school nurses to deliver an expansion of the national influenza vaccination programme to include all children, immunisation experts have warned.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, the independent group that advises the government on vaccine policy, issued the warning in documents from its latest meeting last month.
The committee said expanding the current vaccination programme from children in “at risk” groups to include all children appeared to be cost effective in terms of public health protection, though it held back from making a specific recommendation in favour or against the move.
It said, however, it would produce a statement and recommendations at a future date.
The committee assessed a currently unpublished cost effectiveness study by the Health Protection Agency and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
It said: “Whilst very costly, there is clear evidence from the cost effectiveness study that the influenza vaccination of children is likely to be a cost effective public health intervention that could, given sufficiently high uptake of influenza vaccine by children and assumptions about indirect protection, appreciably lower the public health impact of influenza.”
The committee said that “in light of these conclusions” it believed that an extension of the annual flu vaccination programme should include school-aged children using the intranasal vaccine Fluenz, which is manufactured by Astra Zeneca.
“Such an extension to the programme would be best delivered in schools,” it said, but warned there were “far too few school nurses currently” to allow this.
“To deliver a vaccine uptake of 30% would require nearly one and half times the number of school nurses currently to be working continuously all and each working day only administering vaccine during the peak month; higher vaccine uptakes would require proportionately more school nurses,” it noted.
In 2010 health secretary Andrew Lansley asked the JCVI to look at whether the flu vaccination programme should be extended, following the deaths of several children from flu. Last November the committee concluded it wanted more evidence, sparking the latest review.