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Pork fears delay flu vaccinations
Part of a programme to immunise children against flu has been delayed after some Muslim parents raised concerns that the vaccination contains pork gelatine.
Around 100,000 children from primary schools in Scotland are being offered the nasal spray Fluenz as part of a pilot scheme.
Vaccinations were due to start at 54 primary schools in Glasgow earlier this week as part of Scotland's largest immunisation programme, recently launched by First Minister Alex Salmond.
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said the roll out had been postponed until Monday October 7 after a small number of parents raised concerns.
The Herald newspaper said some Muslim parents at Glendale Primary in the Pollokshields area of Glasgow had complained.
Parents will be able to request that their child receives the vaccination by injection rather than through the nasal spray.
A spokeswoman for the health board said: "These concerns relate to the nasal spray vaccine which contains a tiny amount of gelatine of pork origin used during the manufacturing process. Use of this substance in vaccines has been approved by representatives of the Muslim and also the Jewish communities."
Dr Syed Ahmed, consultant in public medicine with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, said the health board had written to parents with children in the pilot schools to reassure them about the nasal vaccine.
He said: "We have highlighted that The World Health Organisation (WHO) offered guidance in 2001 following a meeting of more than 100 Muslim scholars in Kuwait. The scholars agreed to issue advice to Muslims that gelatine of pork origin used in vaccines and other medicines is judicially permissible as the gelatine in the final product is a completely changed substance.
"However we have also confirmed that any parent who remains concerned about the small amount of gelatine in the nasal spray can request that their child can be given an alternative flu vaccination by injection."
A Glasgow City Council spokeswoman said: "We asked for a delay to the start of the programme in our schools to allow for additional information regarding the programme to be sent to families taking part in the immunisation pilot."
The Scottish Government is gradually expanding the annual flu vaccination programme to include all children aged two to 17 over the next few years.
Around 120,000 two and three-year-olds will be offered the nasal spray this year, in addition to the primary schools pilot.
It is understood the immunisation programme was rolled out across the rest of the country as planned this week.
Public Health Minister Michael Matheson confirmed the children of parents who have concerns about the nasal spray can be given an alternative injectable vaccine.
"Flu can be a very serious infection with around 5,000 children treated in hospital each year in Scotland," he said.
"That is why, for the new programme for children, we are using a quick and painless nasal spray Fluenz, which has proven to be more effective in children and avoids the use of needles.
"Parents should be reassured that the existing guidance issued in 2001 from the World Health Organisation, prepared by religious scholars, advises that gelatine of porcine origin used in vaccines and other medicines is judicially permissible as the gelatine in the final product is a completely changed substance.
"Vaccination is voluntary and we want all parents to have the information they need to make an informed choice.
"If parents continue to have any concerns, children can be given an alternative safe injectable vaccine which does not contain any porcine gelatine but provides less protection than the nasal spray.
"The Scottish Government very much appreciates the help and advice provided by Muslim councils in response to these concerns and a letter has been issued to parents of children in Glasgow to offer reassurance about the use of the Fluenz vaccine."
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said the Immunisation Scotland website provides more information about the childhood flu programme.
She said: "Many medicines, including vaccines, used all over the world contain traces of bovine and porcine gelatin. Gelatin is an essential ingredient to make the flu nasal spray vaccine effective. Many faith groups, including Jewish and Muslim communities, have approved the use of gelatin-containing vaccines."