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Early results from a child flu vaccine pilot programme suggest a positive impact on levels of flu in England among children and families.
Initial results of the programme launched last year by Public Health England (PHE) are encouraging, according to an article published in the science journal Eurosurveillance.
The programme originated as a result of a recommendation by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which in 2012 advised extending the national flu immunisation programme to all children from the age of two to under 17 years. In addition to protecting healthy children from flu, the programme aims to reduce the spread of flu and protect younger siblings, grandparents and others who are at increased risk of becoming seriously ill from flu.
Dr Paul Cosford, director for health protection and medical director at PHE, said: “This is an important addition to the national programme and is being carefully planned. The pilots are helping us to understand the best way to implement the programme nationally, ensuring that we can set up a successful and sustainable programme, vaccinating children and young people to protect them and the wider population.”
As a first step in the pilot programme, last year all children aged two and three years were offered flu vaccination, while children aged between four and 11 years old were vaccinated in seven pilot areas in England in 2013 to 2014.
Pilots took place in Bury, Cumbria, Gateshead, Leicester City, East Leicestershire and Rutland, and the London boroughs of Havering and Newham and southeast Essex. A total of 104,792 primary age children received at least one dose of a nasal spray flu vaccine, or a needle vaccine for the small number of children unable to receive the nasal spray vaccine. This figure represents an overall uptake of just over half the target group.
Despite the low flu activity in England during 2013 to 2014, early results suggest a positive impact. Results were obtained from a variety of sources including GP consultations for influenza-like illness, swab positivity, laboratory confirmed hospitalisations and the percentage of respiratory emergency department attendances.
The cumulative GP consultation rate for ‘influenza-like illness’ over the 2013 to 2014 season was higher in non-pilot (64.5 incidences per 100,000 population) compared to pilot areas (17.7 incidences per100,000). The cumulative influenza positivity rate in pilot areas was 8.5 per cent compared to 16.2 per cent in non-pilot areas.
The cumulative proportion of emergency department respiratory attendances was 5.5 per cent in pilot areas compared to 8.7 per cent in non-pilot areas. From September 2014 vaccination against flu will be offered to all children aged two to four years of age. The geographical pilots for primary school children established in 2013 to 2014 will continue and a number of additional pilots for secondary school age children in years seven and eight (ages 11 to 12) will also begin in some areas.