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Free improved jab for children

Children will start being given an improved jab at health centres.

Children will start being given an improved jab at health centres.

The government will be offering free improved vaccines for children as from Wednesday, The Times has learned.

The new vaccine, which could only be bought privately, has less side effects and is safer than the old vaccine, which prevents infection by diphtheria, tetanus, polio, whooping cough and haemophilus influenza type B.

The improved vaccine contains a form of pertussis (whooping cough), which is acellular – meaning it does not contain a whole cell – and so has fewer side effects like fever and swelling at the site of injection, which commonly resulted from the previous vaccine.

Moreover, the old vaccine for polio was given in drops containing the live vaccine and could in very rare cases cause polio. The new injection contains a form of inactivated polio, which prevents this from happening.

Sources said talks were also under way to introduce the pneumococcal vaccine into the government schedule. This vaccine, which is also only available privately, prevents pneumococcal meningitis, pneumonia and septicaemia.

There are no plans at present to give the meningitis C vaccine for free on the government schedule because meningitis is rarely caused by this organism in Malta.

The two vaccines are given by doctors in the private sector, as advised by the World Health Organisation.

When contacted, the Health Ministry said the public would be informed about the changes to the immunisation schedule in due course.

GPs would be informed through a Department of Health circular and an information leaflet for the guidance of the public was also being prepared, the spokesman said.

The spokesman confirmed the vaccines would be available from September.

The introduction of the pneumococcal vaccine was being evaluated in line with the introduction of other new medicines within the government formulary, the ministry said, confirming there were no plans to introduce a meningococcal vaccine into the schedule.

Unfortunately, in spite of its benefits, the new five-in-one vaccine will not spare the children from more injections but will at least avoid them taking the bad-tasting polio drops given previously.

The vaccine will be given at different ages than the previous injections, with the first vaccine starting at six weeks and continuing with two more boosters until the final vaccine is given at 16 years.

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