Primary's alternative flu vaccine for Muslim pupils
Hillcrest Primary School in Totterdown has secured an alternative flu vaccine for Muslim children, after hearing concerns from the community.
by Charley Rogers
The standard flu vaccination for children in the UK is administered via nasal spray, known as Fluenz, and includes pork-derived products. This is of concern for many Muslim families, as generally pork products are considered impermissible under Islam. An injectable vaccine, without porcine gelatine, is available in the UK for adults and older children.
Juliet Fleming, who works in the school office at Hillcrest Primary, observed that Muslim families were not getting answers to their questions about the vaccinations, and decided to take action.
She told the South Bristol Voice: "When I saw families being passed from pillar to post without getting any answers, I thought I have to stand up and try to do something.”
The flu vaccine in UK schools is administered by a company called Sirona, but upon querying the company about the availability of the injectable, adult vaccine for younger children, families were directed to enquire with local GPs. GPs in turn referred the families back to the schools, which resulted in a ‘loop’ of frustration.
Juliet says: “Muslim families have been declining the nasal spray flu vaccine for years, but obviously this year everyone is on a higher alert. I was hearing these families’ stories, and I thought ‘this is discrimination’.
"Not all sects of Islam oppose the nasal vaccine, but since the pork-free version is available, I wanted to see if I could find out more about that.”
After going through the same ‘loop’ as the families, Juliet wrote to MP Karin Smyth, and received a prompt reply from her office. “Someone in Karin’s office immediately contacted the chief executive of the NHS Bristol clinical commissioning group (BCCG), and received a prompt response confirming that younger children could have the injectable vaccine. They forwarded me the response from the BCCG, explaining why there had been an issue and what was being done.”
Juliet was delighted with the result. “It just goes to show that sometimes, standing up and getting your voice heard actually works,” she says. “I’m very excited about the outcome.”
Zaheer Shabir, a parent and former governor at Hillcrest Primary, and Assistant Imam at Bristol Jamia Mosque in Totterdown, says: “I have two children at the school who were both offered the nasal flu vaccine, and the forms clearly stated the vaccine contained porcine gelatine. I contacted the school to discuss an alternative vaccine, and then contacted my GP surgery and the Sirona team.
“I was lucky to have the support of Hillcrest Primary through Juliet, who contacted our MP, in turn launching further discussions with Sirona as to whether the injectable flu vaccine could be provided to school children. This could not have been achieved without the positive engagement with Hillcrest Primary.”
Zaheer says he recommends any concerned parents to contact the immunisation team on 01275 373104 to arrange an appointment for their child.