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Many children given wrong vaccine

Many children are administered the wrong jab when they go to get their seasonal flu vaccination, a health professionals' representative body has disclosed.

Several cases have emerged recently of children being given vaccines unsuitable for their age group.

The Medical Defence Union said it has been passed 108 reports of children being incorrectly vaccinated in the past five years. Some of these even include the wrong jabs for meningitis.

Some seasonal flu jabs are not supposed to be used on children under four, for example.

The Department of Health recently had to alert health staff not to use some flu vaccines because they had resulted in some children having febrile convulsions. Officials said the vaccine should really be administered to all at-risk children aged over six months, such as those with asthma or a weakened immune system but staff must ensure they are giving out the right one.

The department said children under five should not be given Enzira or CSL Biotherapies generic influenza vaccine, made by Pfizer.

A total of 10 flu vaccine brands are available.

The Medical Defence Union said in a statement: "The MDU has received a number of calls from members on its advice line recently where there has been a mix-up over the type of vaccine administered to children. In addition, a survey of cases reported to the MDU has revealed that 108 immunisation errors were reported over the last five years.

"Of these, 98 (90%) involved children and three concerned doctors administering the incorrect seasonal influenza vaccine to children."

Jacqui Phillips, an adviser to the union, said: "Although this number of adverse incidents is low considering the numbers of immunisations given, vaccine errors do represent a sizeable proportion of the medication incidents notified to the MDU. Not all seasonal flu vaccines are suitable for children and GPs need to ensure that neither they nor practice staff administer the incorrect ones."

The MDU recommends doctors and practice nurses check records thoroughly before giving a vaccine, take a history of previous immunisations and any current medication. Staff must also ensure parental consent and become familiar with the guidance notes for vaccines.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "The NHS does an excellent job in delivering the seasonal flu vaccination programme. Reducing the administration errors to even lower levels would help improve the programme further. It is the responsibility of the doctor or nurse giving the vaccine to check and ensure it is the right vaccine for the patient."

Copyright © Press Association 2011

Medical Defence Union

What do you think should be done to ensure the correct vaccine is given? Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"Maybe a different coloured box and packaging would help" -
Karen Barraclough, Manchester

"When the seasonal flu vaccines are ordered, the primary check ought to be done, reading the license, the manufacturer's information leaflet for age suitability and dosage. Then this should be written down on the storage
container or poster form on the front of the fridge, a method agreed by the practice surgery to help the doctor /nurse administering the vacc to re-check. Ideal for the marketing company to be held responsible to print next to the Lot and expiry date with the age suitability for the vacc admin" - Anne Majumdar, Wilts

"If not familiar with the brand of vaccine, ALWAYS check the manufacturer's info leaflet for paediatric suitability and dosage. If in doubt ring the manufacturer's clinical advice dept" - LD, Hampshire

"More training and clearer guidelines. The Green Book algorithm for 'flu vaccines is good but still very complex" - Kirsty Armstrong

"Address the packaging issues and clearly label the vaccine not for paediatric use. This may not directly relate to flu vaccines but we are frequently frustrated by little difference in packaging between paediatric doses and adult doses of vaccine" - Carol King, Nurse Practitioner

"Print the age group the vaccine is intended for on the front of the vaccine box, rather than in tiny print on the info leaflet" - S Sutton, Practice nurse