CHILDREN in Exeter could be among the first to be inoculated against swine flu.
A team of researchers has applied for funding to test a vaccine for the disease ahead of a mass vaccination programme in the autumn.
If the Government gives the go-ahead, parents will be able to put their children forward to be part of the trial to see if there are any side-effects with vaccines that have been developed to deal with the H1N1 virus.
The research will help the Department of Health decide whether it is safe to vaccinate youngsters against swine flu.
Professor of paediatrics at Bristol University, Adam Finn, and colleagues have put a proposal to the Government to carry out the work alongside other cities.
Children aged between six months and 12 years will be given the vaccine as part of the trial and any reaction or medical problem that occurs will be recorded. Youngsters will also be given a blood test before and after.
Data from Exeter youngsters would be compiled along with results from Bristol, Oxford, Southampton and South West London to help Government health experts make a final decision on whether to vaccinate youngsters.
Experts will be looking out for signs of fever, a reaction in the skin around the injection site and any other illness that children might suffer.
Professor Finn said the decision to vaccinate children would be based on the harm that the injection could cause compared to the perceived risk of youngsters contracting swine flu.
He said: “It is a balance between what is going on with the illness and what is going on with the vaccine. As yet we do not know much about the illness or about the vaccine.
“It is very hard to say at this point how bad the pandemic is going to be.
“There are plenty of reasons to imagine it might be a really big problem because of the scale of the number of people affected. At the moment it does not look like a dreadfully bad strain of flu; the last two pandemics were not bad, but it caused a problem because so many people got it.”
He said it would be beneficial to vaccinate children and that doing so should reduce the spread of the virus.
Usually researchers have several months to test a vaccine but because swine flu has already been classed as a pandemic there is a need for it to be tested more quickly so the programme can be started in the autumn, when more people are expected to get swine flu, as well as the likelihood of seasonal flu.
In Australia, because the H1N1 virus has spread during their autumn, it is more of a problem. Professor Finn said it did not buy the country the time to arrange for a vaccination programme in the way the UK can.
The Government is expected to announce which research sites will be taking part in the vaccine testing this week.