U.K. to offer all children flu vaccine

Great Britain will soon become the first country in the world to make a seasonal influenza vaccination program available to all children free of charge.

The British Department of Health said the new plan will make use of a nasal spray vaccine developed by biopharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, instead of intramuscular injections. The company will not have the capacity to produce enough vaccine until 2014 at the earliest, according to Reuters.

The new contract for FluMist, developed by AstraZeneca's Maryland-based unit MedImmune, will be the largest for the vaccine outside of the United States, where it has been available for the last decade.

Approximately nine million children will be eligible to receive the vaccine every year under the new program. It is expected to cost more than $155 million annually, Reuters reports.

Britain's National Health Service has most likely negotiated a substantial discount for FluMist. The vaccine's list price is usually $22 per dose.

Influenza is generally not fatal in otherwise healthy children, but they can easily become sick enough to require hospitalization. Schools can act as reservoirs for the illness, which can then be brought home to family members who might be at risk for complications.

Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Dame Sally Davies expects the vaccine to significantly reduce infection rates.

"Even with moderate uptake of 30 percent it's estimated that this should result in 11,000 fewer hospitalizations and 2,000 fewer deaths each year," Davies said, the BBC reports.