1. In a major step forward, there is a vaccine available to fight swine flu – this is the first pandemic for which we have had vaccine to protect people.
2. The vaccine uses an inactivated form of the virus so it cannot give your child swine flu. It works by tricking the immune system into thinking it has been infected with the swine flu virus so that it creates antibodies against it.
3. All children over six months and under five years are being called for the swine flu vaccine. There are particularly high hospital admission rates in under fives.
4. All other children over the age of five years who have long term health conditions which may weaken their immune system or make them more susceptible to complications from swine flu are also being called for vaccination.
5. At-risk groups include children with chronic respiratory, heart, kidney and liver disease, chronic neurological disease, or diabetes requiring insulin or oral hypoglycaemic drugs. Those who live with children whose immune systems are compromised by a disease or treatment for a disease, such as cancer patients or those with HIV/AIDS are also being offered the vaccination.
6. The vaccine is not being offered to babies under six months old as there is insufficient evidence about the immune responses in children of this age, and studies are complicated because they have many other vaccines at that time.
7. Possible complications from swine flu are pneumonia (an infection of the lungs), difficulty breathing and, in the very worst cases, it may even result in death. The common side effects of the vaccine are a sore arm, fatigue, headache or fever.
8. You can only be certain your child has had swine flu if it was confirmed by a laboratory test. Otherwise, they may have had normal seasonal flu or something else. Unless you know for sure that your child aged over six months and under five years has had swine flu, or if they are older and in one of the at-risk groups, you should have them vaccinated.
9. The seasonal flu vaccination will not protect against swine flu. All children over the age of six months in the at-risk group for the seasonal flu jab should also get the swine flu vaccine to ensure they are protected against both swine flu and the other flu strains in circulation.
10. If you have a child over six months and under five, you will be contacted by your GP inviting you to go to an immunisation clinic or make an appointment at their surgery – either by letter or in some instances by text or phone.
The swine flu pandemic is being closely monitored by the Department of Health. You can sign up for email alerts on the latest here: www.nhs.uk, or visit www.direct.gov.uk/swineflu for further information.