A free nasal vaccine for seasonal flu rolled out to primary school pupils may not be given to Muslim children because it contains pig gelatine.
The nasal vaccine, part of a drive to protect the health of schoolchildren through the winter, is being offered to pupils in Years 1 and 2 across East Staffordshire, reports the Burton Mail. Injectable flu vaccines, as opposed to nasal ones, are less effective in young children, doing less to reduce the spread of flu in the wider community.
A processed gelatine used in the nasal vaccine, common to many essential medicines, is derived from boiling skin, tendons, ligaments and bones of pigs. As such it is unacceptable to certain faith groups.
“I am not in a position to tell people whether to let their child have the vaccine. However, I have three children and I will not allow them to have the nasal vaccine, because of my faith.
“I have visited a lot of people who are in the same position. This is not for the greater good.”
Primary schools affected sent parents information about the programme, including details of the gelatine medical product the vaccines contained. Anglesey Primary Academy in Burton went one step further, sending out a text message to parents warning them.
Head teacher Charlotte Hopkins explains: “Our school has a lot of Muslim children so we sent an alert to all parents to make sure they were fully informed.”
According to Dr James Shipman of the Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Partnership NHS Trust: “The nasal vaccine provides the best protection against flu, particularly in young children. It also reduces the risk to family members, who may be more vulnerable to the complications of flu.
“The injected vaccine is not thought to reduce spread so effectively and so is not being offered to healthy children as part of this programme.
“However, if a child is at high risk from flu due to one or more medical conditions and can’t have the nasal flu vaccine they should have the flu vaccine by injection.”
The importance of the vaccination programme is not limited just to those children given the nasal vaccine. The concept of ‘herd immunity’ explains how the wider community is also affected. The Vaccine Knowledge Project describes how it works:
When a high percentage of the population is vaccinated, it is difficult for infectious diseases to spread because there are not many people who can be infected. For example, if someone with measles is surrounded by people who are vaccinated against measles, the disease cannot easily be passed on to anyone, and it will quickly disappear again. This is called ‘herd immunity’, and it gives protection to vulnerable people such as newborn babies, elderly people and those who are too sick to be vaccinated.
…If you live in an area where vaccine coverage is low, and your child is not vaccinated, it’s quite likely that many of the people they come into contact with will not be vaccinated either. If one of these people gets an infectious disease like measles, they can easily pass it on to the other unvaccinated people around them, and in some cases the disease can then spread very quickly through the population. This is what happened during the 2013 measles outbreak in Wales.