Gelatine concerns delay latest Scottish flu vaccination programme for children

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Part of a programme to immunise children against flu has been delayed after some Muslim parents raised concerns that the vaccination contains pork gelatine.

About 100,000 children from primary schools in Scotland are being offered the nasal spray Fluenz as part of a pilot scheme.

Vaccinations were due to start at 54 primary schools in Glasgow earlier this week as part of Scotland’s largest immunisation programme, recently launched by First Minister Alex Salmond.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said the roll out had been postponed until Monday after a few parents raised concerns.

One local newspaper said some Muslim parents at Glendale Primary in the Pollokshields area of Glasgow had complained.

Parents can ask that their children receive the vaccinations by injections rather than nasal spray.

A spokeswoman for the health board said: “These concerns relate to the nasal spray vaccine which contains a tiny amount of gelatine of pork origin used during the manufacturing process. Use of this substance in vaccines has been approved by representatives of the Muslim and also the Jewish communities.”

Dr Syed Ahmed, consultant in public medicine with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, said the health board had written to parents with children in the pilot schools to reassure them about the nasal vaccine.

He said: “We have highlighted that The World Health Organisation (WHO) offered guidance in 2001 following a meeting of more than 100 Muslim scholars in Kuwait. The scholars agreed to issue advice to Muslims that gelatine of pork origin used in vaccines and other medicines is judicially permissible as the gelatine in the final product is a completely changed substance.

“However we have also confirmed that any parent who remains concerned about the small amount of gelatine in the nasal spray can request that their child can be given an alternative flu vaccination by injection.”

A Glasgow City Council spokeswoman said: “We asked for a delay to the start of the programme in our schools to allow for additional information regarding the programme to be sent to families taking part in the immunisation pilot.”

The Scottish Government is gradually expanding the annual flu vaccination programme to include all children aged two to 17 over the next few years.

Public Health Minister Michael Matheson said: “The Scottish Government very much appreciates the help and advice provided by Muslim councils in response to these concerns and a letter has been issued to parents of children in Glasgow to offer reassurance.”