- London Telegraph -
Children under five are three times more likely to be admitted to hospital than any other age group and in some areas of the country paediatric intensive care beds are filling up, Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer said.
As a result, parents of children aged between six months and five years will soon be sent letters inviting them to take their children to their local GP's surgery for vaccination.
The vaccine is voluntary however, and parents can choose not to send their child for the injection. It is known that some parents have concern about its safety, despite the World Health Organisation insisting that it is safe.
Currently only people with long-term illnesses, pregnant women and front line health workers are being vaccinated.
It was expected that children would be the next in line for vaccinations, but experts were assessing which age group would benefit most from the jab.
Sir Liam said it was expected that the vaccination programme for young children will begin 'in earnest' in December but it will depend on supplies of the jabs.
Reports from GPs have suggested around half of patients are refusing the jab but Sir Liam rubbished this as a 'small survey' and said their own polling conducted by Mori found three quarters of parents were willing to have their child vaccinated if offered the jab.
Children will be offered two injections, each containing one half of an adult dose of Pandemrix, made by GlaxoSmithKline, as data has shown this has produced a good immune response, but this will be kept under review.
Meanwhile the World Health Organisation said all the pandemic vaccines were showing a good safety profile and there were no differences between them.
Young children are being hit particularly hard by the H1N1 virus and in England one in five patients in hospital is under the age of five, official figures show.
In addition to children, up to five million carers will also be offered the vaccine as the elderly and vulnerable people they look after would be at risk if their carer fell ill, Sir Liam said.
Talks are now under way with GP representatives on payments to deliver the next stage of the vaccination programme.
Independent experts said offering the vaccine more widely to healthy children was the 'next logical step'.
Sir Liam said the Government were not overreacting to the pandemic. He said: "Patients are dying and parents are standing by their children in intensive care beds in life and death situations. When we have got the weapons to deal with it I think we should use them.
"We are out to save lives and we are out to fight this pandemic all the way."
The total number of new cases of swine flu in England has dropped for the second consecutive week to 53,000.
However Sir Liam said the number of patients in hospital and in critical care remained high.
The number of deaths confirmed as linked to swine flu is now 214 in the UK as a whole.