ALL children in the Province will be eligible for free flu vaccinations in the next two years.
Acting on medical advice, Health Minister Edwin Poots has agreed to extend the voluntary vaccine to all under-18s.
The programme should be in place by autumn 2014, it is hoped.
Previously, only at-risk groups were entitled to the free vaccine.
These include anyone aged 65 or over, pregnant women and those with conditions such as asthma, heart conditions or diabetes.
But soon anyone aged between two and 17 will be able to obtain a nasal spray immunisation even though they are some of the least likely to catch the flu.
Mr Poots was advised to make the move by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
Although the committee said it would be tough to extend the vaccine to all kids, it concluded that the health benefits were worth it.
In a statement announcing the move, the minister said: “Children in at-risk groups, such as those with asthma, heart conditions or cerebral palsy are already eligible to receive the flu vaccine from their own GP.
“Following a recommendation from JCVI, and advice from my officials, I have decided to extend the vaccine to all children aged between two to 17 years free of charge.
“There will be significant challenges to delivering an extended programme that will require up to 400,000 children to be vaccinated during a six-week period, and we will look at the recommendations in detail to decide how best to develop and deliver the programme.”
The vaccine is best delivered in a roughly six-week window before the “flu season” starts around October.
Some of the details of the scheme have yet to be worked out.
For instance, it is not yet known who will deliver the vaccine to children, although school nurses are one possible suggestion.