England and France launch new vaccine calendars

Gary Finnegan

Gary Finnegan

June 11th, 2013

Gary Finnegan

‘Health authorities in England have added additional vaccines to a revamped vaccine schedule, while France has streamlined its immunisation calendar to make it more user-friendly.’

calendarIn a letter to health professionals, Public Health England said the rotavirus vaccine would be added to the childhood immunisation schedule from July. Rotavirus is the leading cause of acute gastroenteritis in infants and young children around the world.

The existing flu immunisation programme is to be extended over a number of years to include all children aged two to 16 years of age. This expansion will begin in autumn 2013, with flu vaccines being offered to preschool-aged children. The precise age profile of the target group will be announced in the months ahead.

There are also changes to the timing of administering the Meningitis C vaccine which will see the dose previously given at four months replaced by a booster dose given during adolescence.

The new schedule is not just for kids: from September 2013, a shingles vaccine will be introduced for people aged 70, with a catch-up campaign targeting 79-year-olds.

Adolescents too are the target of a major catch-up programme drawn up in the wake of measles outbreaks in Wales and northern England. The campaign aims to increase immunisation rates among the age group worst affected by the dip in uptake of the MMR vaccine in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Success through simplicity

Meanwhile, a new simplified vaccine calendar devised by French health authorities has been given a warm welcome.

France endured a severe measles outbreak between 2010 and 2012, recording tens of thousands of new cases, and saw exceptionally low uptake of flu vaccines by health professionals during the H1N1 pandemic.

These setbacks prompted a rethink which has led to the new, streamlined childhood schedule and, for the first time, an adult immunisation schedule.

Drawn up by the Technical Committee on Immunisation of the High Council of Public Health, the schedule recommends specific vaccines at fixed ages. For example, diphtheria, tetanus and polio are recommended at 25, 45, 65, 45 and 85 years. Similarly, a pertussis booster is advised at 25 years.

The target group for HPV vaccination has been decreased from the 14 to 23 year old age cohort down to the 11 to 19 year old age group.

It is hoped that this will prove easier to understand and remember than previous guidelines targeting risk groups such as pregnant women and people with chronic diseases.

Removing barriers

Efforts to streamline national vaccine calendars come as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) launches a new online tool to help compare vaccine schedules in EU countries.

The tool allows parents moving from one European country to another to make sure their children do not miss immunisations due to differences in national calendars.

Vaccine schedules differ across Europe due to differences in the prevalence of diseases, as well as for reasons of cost and local or historical reasons. According to the Robert Koch Institute, while differences have arisen due to how national health systems (and even school calendars) are organised, they all have one thing in common: they all work.

The ECDC’s new calendar comparison website is part of a general effort to make immunisation more convenient. Earlier this year the WHO launched a project which will allow national authorities to build a smartphone app that makes it easy to track vaccinations and to keep up with recommended schedules.