Children kept off school over ‘misplaced’ flu vaccine fears

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Dr Linda Diggle, head of preventative health who is leading Jersey’s mass immunisation programme, said 60 per cent of the Island’s primary school children had received the nasal spray vaccine – a one per cent increase from the year before.

And she has also told parents who chose not to immunise their child that there is no reason to keep them off school on the day of the vaccination or the days following.

Last month, the Health Department unveiled its mass-immunisation programme which could protect 42,000 Islanders from the potentially deadly illness. As part of the measures, for the first time all secondary school students up to Year 11 will be able to receive the vaccine and it will also be once again offered to all primary and nursery pupils.

The vaccination programme in primary schools, which began on 8 October, is now complete and the nasal spray has been administered to 4,500 (60 per cent) pupils.

Dr Diggle said it was too early to see the uptake in nursery children as GPs only began to administer the vaccine on 15 October. Similarly, the immunisation programme in secondary schools got under way this week and is due to finish on 9 November.

Dr Diggle stressed that the vaccine was safe and said since it was introduced in UK schools in 2013, millions of children had received it.

‘We do know there has been an increase in inaccurate information being shared on social media,’ she said. ‘We know parents have fallen victim to misinformation on social media. That is not helpful for anybody.

‘We have corrected some of this misinformation where we have seen it. We have had lots of calls from parents who have said: “I’ve seen this, I can’t believe it is true but can I have a definitive answer?” We’ve been happy to do that.’

She said the uptake among primary school pupils was ‘good’ and added that it may rise as there will be three catch-up clinics for children who may have missed their vaccination or whose parents may have changed their mind about immunising them.

‘Sixty per cent in my book is good,’ Dr Diggle said. ‘Despite all of that information that has been shared [on social media] the majority of parents can see the wood for the trees and are doing the right thing in protecting their child. I think that is good news.’

She once again urged parents to take up the offer to vaccinate their child.

‘We know that flu is a very common infection in babies and in young children,’ she said. ‘It can be very unpleasant for them. We know that children under the age of five are more likely to be hospitalised by flu than any other age group. When children get flu their symptoms last longer, they are infected for longer and are more likely to spread it.’

The JEP has heard of parents keeping their child off school following the administration of the nasal virus due to the belief that the vaccine is not safe.

‘There is no reason to keep them off. It is safe for them to be there. They are not going to come down with flu,’ Dr Diggle said.

‘The vaccination does not give you flu, neither does it give those in the vicinity flu. Why would the Health service give a vaccination to protect against flu if the vaccination itself gives the very illness we are protecting the child against? That would be counter-productive.’

Meanwhile, the number of Islanders who have received the flu vaccine from a pharmacist so far this season is 3,643. This compares to 3,497 for the whole of the last flu season – the first time the jab was offered in Jersey pharmacies.

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