Swine flu jabs ruled out for children under five

CHILDREN under five will not be vaccinated against swine flu despite the growing threat of the disease across Britain.

The Government's advisory body on immunisation has concluded young children should not be one of the "at risk" groups targeted for vaccinations as cases of swine flu and other influenza strains spread across the country.

Yesterday it was revealed nearly 40 people in the UK have now died from confirmed influenza-related diseases this winter, with a further 738 critically ill in hospital – up from 460 on Christmas Eve.

The figures mean one in five critical care beds are now taken up with flu patients. The figure is not yet high enough to require contingency plans to be put in place.

Four of the dead and 42 of the critically ill are under fives.

An immunisation scheme for young children was dropped earlier this year and critics have called for it to be reinstated as fears of a potential epidemic grow.

Some experts have warned of the possible spread of swine flu among children when they return to school in the coming days.

But the Government's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has concluded a "significant" proportion of young people with flu-like symptoms are actually suffering from other illnesses, and that greater "gain" can be achieved by targeting other at-risk groups instead.

It also speculated the flu outbreak may subside within weeks.

Prof Andrew Hall of JCVI said: "The committee considered the issue of offering vaccination to healthy children either 0-4 years and/or 5-15 years of age.

"However, although there is a high incidence of influenza-like illness currently in these age groups, a significant proportion of this is due to other viruses.

"In addition, only a very small proportion of those with severe disease are in these age groups.

"Based on previous seasonal influenza epidemiology, it would be hoped influenza circulation will have subsided within a month.

"We do not believe seasonal or pandemic vaccine should be used for these or other healthy person groups. The greatest gain will be achieved in increasing vaccine uptake in the clinical risk groups."

Pregnant women and people with diabetes, chronic illnesses or immuno-suppression conditions are being urged to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Prof Hall said of the recent cases: "JCVI noted a large proportion of those individuals with severe disease are in recognised risk groups for influenza, but unfortunately were not vaccinated."

A Government campaign warning of the dangers of flu is launched today, having previously been cancelled by Tory Health Secretary Andrew Lansley.

Newsagent dies after collapse

The family and friends of a North Yorkshire newsagent are mourning his sudden death from suspected swine flu-related illness.

Father-of-two Paul Band, who owned and managed Copmanthorpe Newsagents, in Copmanthorpe, near York, collapsed at his home from a suspected heart attack after complaining of flu-like symptoms.

He died at York Hospital on Tuesday night.

Doctors told his family they thought Mr Band, 48, had contracted a virus, possibly swine flu, which led to his collapse. He leaves a widow and two children.