School flu vaccines not finished before Christmas in Wales

A child having the flu vaccine Image copyright Getty Images

Thousands of pupils in Wales have to wait until after Christmas to receive flu jabs after delays to the programme.

Health officials in England have warned the flu season started earlier than usual, saying children were at risk of becoming "super-spreaders" of the virus if left unvaccinated.

Only one health board in Wales said it had finished vaccinating in schools.

Public Health Wales said the numbers already vaccinated would help reduce the level of flu being spread.

Welsh health boards had been unable to complete the usual schools' flu immunisation programme because of a UK-wide delay with the delivery of the spray, Fluenz Tetra, caused by issues over routine testing.

The delay was announced at the start of November by Health Minister Vaughan Gething.

In the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board area, 24 schools were still waiting for the vaccine.

Last week, one school in the area had a quarter of its pupils off sick.

Radnor Primary in Canton, Cardiff, which had vaccinations delayed from their expected date in November, sent a letter to parents saying children were coming down with a flu-like virus and the school would be having a deep clean to help avert its spread.

Three days later, vaccines were administered to children at the school.

Cardiff council later clarified some of the illness was being caused by sickness as well as the flu-like virus.

Cardiff and Vale said 10 schools were receiving vaccines this week, while the remaining 14 would have theirs in the first week back at school in January.

Aneurin Bevan University Health Board said 50 schools which had had the vaccinations postponed would have their catch-up sessions completed by 17 January, while Swansea Bay University Health Board said 18 schools would have to be completed after Christmas by 14 January.

Hywel Dda University Local Health Board did not give figures for schools still waiting but said the programme would be finished by early January.

In the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board area covering north Wales, a spokesman said the "vast majority" of schools would have caught up with the vaccinations by the end of term on Friday.

Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board said it would complete 43 catch-up sessions with schools by 20 December.

Powys Teaching Health Board is the only area which has managed to complete all of its catch-up vaccinations.

'Quite a few things circulating'

Dr Chris Williams, consultant epidemiologist for Public Health Wales, said England had seen a sharp increase in flu-like infections whereas Wales had had a rise, but not as marked.

"There has also been an increase in norovirus at the moment, so some schools which are reporting illness have coughs and colds, while some have gastrointestinal symptoms," he told BBC Wales.

"It's the season for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) which particularly affects young children, so there's quite a few things circulating."

Dr Richard Roberts, head of the vaccination programme at Public Health Wales, said the timing of the delay with the flu spray, coming just before half-term, had added to the problem of reorganising vaccinations.

"Both in terms of the teams delivering the vaccine and organising the rooms etc, there's very little capacity to deliver it," he explained, adding it meant the programme had been pushed on into the New Year.

However he said even with the delays, the pupils who had already been vaccinated would still be of benefit to flu numbers, adding: "The level will be reducing the spread [of infection] overall."

He urged parents of pre-school children, the over-65s, pregnant women and those whose health puts them in a higher risk category for complications of flu to get the vaccine.

Domiciliary care workers and staff in care homes are also eligible for free vaccines for the first time this year, which are available via pharmacies.

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