Healthy children between six months and five years old will be vaccinated against swine flu, the Department of Health has confirmed.
The expansion of the government's inoculation programme was revealed as the latest weekly bulletin showed a sharp rise in patient deaths and the number of children being admitted to hospital.
The overall number of new cases showed a second successive weekly fall. Health officials estimate there were 55,000 new cases this week in England compared with 64,000 last week. There was a slight drop in Scotland.
The number of people who have died from swine flu in the UK has reached 214. There were 18 deaths in England last week. The figures since the start of the outbreak in May are 142 fatalities in England, 21 in Wales, 38 in Scotland and 13 in Northern Ireland.
The number of people needing hospital care for the virus is 783, down slightly from 785, in the previous week. Of those in hospital, 180 were in intensive care, up from 173 in the previous week.
The Conservative party has been pressing the government to give vaccinations to healthy children because those under the age of 16 are in one of the more vulnerable groups. About 21% of all H1N1 deaths in the UK have been among under 14s.
So far the priority groups have included those with pre-existing medical conditions, their carers and pregnant women. Children with asthma or diabetes are already being vaccinated. Now, children aged six months to five years are to be offered the vaccination from next month.
Responding to the announcement, the Conservative health spokesman, Andrew Lansley said: "This is in line with the emerging evidence that they are one of the groups with the highest rates of hospitalisation which is putting a real strain on the NHS.
"It is extremely important that we improve the levels of take-up of the swine flu vaccine amongst those who are in the at-risk groups. I am particularly worried by the low numbers of NHS and healthcare staff using the vaccine, who have a duty to protect their patients. It is also vital that we improve the rates amongst pregnant women as well."
Thanks to Peter G for bringing this to our attention.
Another article online today about it:http://www.kentnews.co.uk/kent-news/Big-increase-in-number-of-reported-swine-flu-cases-newsinkent30228.aspx?news=local