08 October 2018
The Medical Officer of Health has written to all Jersey head teachers to reassure any concerned parents that it is safe for children to have the vaccine that protects them from flu infection this winter.
The letter, which has been sent from Dr Susan Turnbull today, (Mon 8 October) offers factual information to help allay concerns about the safety of the nasal vaccine, which is being offered to primary school students this week. This year, for the first time, secondary school students up to the age of 16 can also benefit from the vaccine.
In the letter, Dr Turnbull writes: “It has come to my attention in the last few days that there are some parents expressing concerns about the vaccine programme we have set up to protect Jersey’s children from influenza (flu). These concerns seem to be based on misunderstanding. I hope that this letter from me, setting out the facts as I understand them, will help you and colleagues have well-informed discussions with any concerned parents (or children) and be in a better position to allay such concerns.”
Dr Turnbull reminds parents that:
- Jersey is in the fortunate position of having a well-established, funded programme to prevent schoolchildren contracting flu
- children are at higher risk than adults of catching and spreading flu between themselves, to their families, and beyond
- a child infected with flu can mean time off school for the infected child, and time off work for at least one parent, possibly for up to two weeks
- this programme is feasible because a safe and effective nasal flu vaccine, Fluenz, is available
Dr Turnbull added: “The concerns I have been hearing about on social media are that the vaccine contains ‘live’ influenza virus, and could infect children instead of protecting them. It does not. Fluenz is a ‘live attenuated vaccine’. 'Attenuated’ means that processing has weakened the virus so it is incapable of causing influenza infection.
“Such vaccines work by prompting the immune system to produce its own antibodies, ready to prevent the vaccine-protected person from becoming infected by ‘real’ flu when the seasonal virus starts circulating. By contrast, real, un-attenuated ‘wild’ flu virus is very infectious, by respiratory and droplet, as well as contact spread, especially between children in a winter flu season.”
Dr Turnbull also explains why there is no risk of infection – or accidental vaccination – of people in the same environment as children receiving the vaccine.
She invites head teachers to make contact if they become aware of any different concerns: “If there are any substantially different rumours circulating, it is best that we try to address them quickly by offering good, well-founded information,” she said.
“It would be a terrible shame if misinformation generating misplaced concern were to stop some of our children from receiving safe and effective protection from infection in the coming flu season.
"If my own, now adult, children were still of school age, I would want them to be at the front of the queue for this and all other safe, effective vaccines (as indeed they were). My two small grandchildren currently are too.”
Letter to head teachers