PARENTS’ fears were growing last night over plans to use Britain’s 8.5million schoolchildren as guinea pigs for swine flu vaccinations.
The Government has drawn up drastic plans to immunise every schoolchild in the UK.
In the biggest mass vaccination since the 1964 operation against smallpox, school nurses, health visitors and GPs would deliver the injections to five to 16-year-olds at all 33,700 schools.
The programme could start at the beginning of the new school term in a major effort to minimise the harm caused by a second wave of the pandemic this autumn.
But there are serious concerns as little or no data exists on the safety or effectiveness of flu vaccines on young children.
However, the Department of Health stressed that no decision had been made on delivering the vaccination programme.
Jackie Fletcher, who runs Jabs, a support group for parents whose children have been affected by vaccines, said the Government could end up with unnecessary deaths on their hands if proper tests are not carried out.
She said: “We have got major concerns about the safety of these vaccines.
“No children or anyone else for that matter should be used as guinea pigs
for something like this. There are too many unknowns.
“With millions of people vaccinated the chances of serious side effects, possibly fatal, are very real indeed.”
She pointed to America in 1976 when the government vaccinated 45 million people for a swine flu outbreak that never materialised.
A total of 500 people developed a rare neurological condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome and 25 died.
Ms Fletcher said: “We simply cannot run that risk in Britain. Any vaccinations in September or October are too early. This is a knee-jerk reaction by the Government.”
Peter Smith, professor of tropical epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “What happened in America has never really been understood.
“It’s not really been observed with subsequent influenza vaccines,” said Professor Smith, who is chairman of the global advisory committee on vaccine safety at the World Health Organisation.
Parents would need to give permission for a child to be vaccinated. But there are questions over whether there will be enough health professionals to carry out the vaccinations – there are just 1,447 nurses covering 25,000 schools in England.
Government figures showed the number being diagnosed dropped from 110,000 to 30,000 over the past seven days. But there have been nine new deaths related to the virus in the last week, and 36 people have now died.
Chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson has predicted a “second wave” when schools reopen.
Meanwhile, the country’s first swine flu vaccine trial is being held at Leicester Royal Infirmary.
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