Labour was accused of dangerous scaremongering over flu jabs for children as the Government vehemently denied claims it had ignored expert scientific advice over protecting youngsters.
The political row broke out after shadow health secretary John Healey accused ministers of having "cancelled" an immunisation programme for the under-fives.
"The serious problem lies with the groups that are most at risk, like children. That has come because the Government axed the annual advertising campaign and they cancelled the flu jab plan for the under-fives," he said.
This provoked a furious response from the coalition, which insisted it was the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) which recommended that no specific programme was required this winter.
Health minister Simon Burns called for an apology and suggested it was Mr Healey who was putting people's health at risk by creating false fears about the risks.
"Labour have stooped to a new low of political opportunism today," he said. "By calling on the Government to reject independent scientific advice, they risk undermining the public confidence in immunisation programmes which is so crucial to their success. "The Government is legally obliged to implement the recommendations made by the experts in the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations. We have no intention of repealing these laws to allow us to override experts in the manner which Labour suggests."
In a statement, the JCVI confirmed that it had "never recommended that children under five who are not in an at-risk group be vaccinated as part of the seasonal flu programme".
"All children under five were routinely vaccinated during the pandemic flu vaccination programme, but in line with previous years and the current evidence, the JCVI did not recommend healthy children under five were vaccinated against flu during the current season," the statement added.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley renewed his defence of the decision to axe the national publicity campaign to save cash and urged those in vulnerable groups to take up invitations to have the jab. Doctors' leaders have raised concerns that a dramatic jump in the number of cases over recent weeks could be due to low take-up rates in the wake of the lack of high-profile advertising.
On Friday, official figures showed the number of people in critical care with confirmed or suspected flu in England had risen to 460 - more than double the figure of a week before. Of those, 366 were aged between 16 and 64, 51 were aged 65 and over, 26 were under five and another 17 were aged between five and 15. Nine children are among the 27 people to have died from flu this season so far.