Health boards throughout Scotland are to start vaccinating under-fives against swine flu.
All parents of children aged between six months and five years will be invited to take their children to local health centres to receive their injection. The programme will begin before the Christmas break and will proceed throughout January.
A spokeswoman for NHS Shetland said: “We would be encouraging people to take this opportunity and if they have got any worries or concerns, discuss them with their GP or health visitor.”
Young children form the second section of the population to be targeted for the H1N1 vaccination. The initial priority groups to receive the vaccination include pregnant women, frontline health workers and people with existing health conditions.
Vaccination of these groups is expected to be complete before Christmas, when the programme will be extended to include young children.
Director of public health Sarah Taylor said that at present the priority is to finish the first phase of vaccinations, especially of pregnant women, including those who are newly pregnant.
Regarding child vaccinations, Dr Taylor said that side effects for this group would be no different from others in the population and much safer than actually having swine flu. “We have a lot of experience in flu vaccines and in common with a lot of vaccinations there could be some minor side effects, including irritation at the site.”
Dr Taylor said contingency plans are in place in the event of an H1N1 outbreak in Shetland. These plans have not had to be initiated because although there have been staff absences due to flu-like illness, this has not been at a level where services could not be kept going. The progress of swine flu could not be predicted, she said, although the incidence of flu-like illness in general tends to increase in January and February.
Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: “Vaccination is our best form of defence against pandemic flu and it’s good news that we’re now ready to begin vaccinating young children. While H1N1 has proved to be a relatively mild illness for most, we have also seen that it can be a killer.
“As with most colds and flu-like illnesses, the H1N1 virus can circulate quickly in young children who are both susceptible to new infections and more likely to spread them. It is also the case that children are more likely to be hospitalised if they fall ill with the virus.
“It’s for these reasons that we are extending the vaccination programme – to protect children themselves and those who come into contact with them.”
Two H1N1 vaccines are currently being used in Scotland. Children receiving the Pandemrix vaccine will only require a single dose. The Celvapan vaccine, which is primarily being used for those with egg allergies, will require two doses with at least a three week interval between doses.