UK extends childhood flu campaign

Editorial Team

Editorial Team

October 24th, 2016

Editorial Team

‘Data from the UK and Finland show the nasal flu vaccine protects children and the wider community’

Healthy children in their third year of primary school in England will be offered the nasal flu vaccine from October 2016, according to Public Health England (PHE).

This means that children aged 2, 3 and 4 can avail of free flu immunisation at their local clinic while schoolchildren in years 1, 2 and 3 three will have the vaccine described by PHE as “quick, effective and painless”.

The UK introduced the first pilot programme for vaccinating healthy children in 2014/2015 and has seen good results.

In areas where flu vaccine was piloted amongst primary school age children, there was a 94% reduction in GP influenza-like illness consultation rates; 74% reduction in A&E respiratory attendances, and 93% reduction in hospital admissions due to confirmed influenza in primary school children.

In the pilot areas, GP ‘influenza like illness’ consultation rates for adults were 59% lower compared to non-pilot areas. This means that vaccinating children not only directly protects them, it also indirectly protects adults by reducing the spread of the virus in the community.

Similar work is under way to measure the community impact of the programme in 2015/16, again looking at the impact on hospital attendances and admissions, and GP consultation rates. “A report is expected later this summer detailing our findings and initial data shows the child flu vaccine in the UK to be 57% effective overall in children 2 to 17 years of age in 15/16,” PHE said.

Read: Case study – flu jab for UK kids

Transatlantic rift

The UK’s decision to expand its childhood flu vaccination programme comes as US health authorities questioned the effectiveness of the inhaled vaccine, advising the public to have the injected vaccine instead this winter. However, the UK is not expected to alter is plans.

“Public Health England (PHE), the Department of Health and NHS England remain confident that the children’s nasal spray flu vaccine plays an important role in protecting children, their families and others in the community from flu during the winter,” said a PHE spokesperson.

They also point to findings by the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Finland which show similar effectiveness levels to the UK in 2015 to 2016 (46% against laboratory confirmed disease), and have confirmed the nasal spray flu vaccine will continue to be used in Finland for the forthcoming winter.

Read: Should all kids get the flu vaccine?

No reason to change

Dr Richard Pebody, head of flu surveillance for PHE said the effectiveness of the flu vaccine in children are line with what is typically seen for adult flu vaccination.

“Based on intelligence to date, there is no reason to change current recommendations regarding use of the children’s nasal spray vaccine in the UK,” he said. “We’re delighted that the UK leads the way in offering this vaccine to children and we remain confident that the vaccines used in the Annual Flu Vaccine programme are the most effective that are currently available in protecting both those vaccinated and in reducing transmission of the flu virus in our communities.”

He said authorities would continue to keep all vaccines used in their programmes under review and to take advice from our independent expert scientific committee, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisations (JCVI).

Monitoring impact

The apparent disparities between effectiveness data in the US compared to the UK and Finland points to the need for ongoing monitoring of immunisation programmes.

In a statement to Vaccines Today, Dr Kari Johansen, an expert in vaccinology at the European Centre of Disease Prevention & Control (ECDC), said this is essential to measuring the value of such public health interventions.

“Only by closely monitoring the direct and indirect impact of influenza vaccination programmes – as well as against any other disease – can one understand the benefit and utility such programmes have to people in Europe.”