After several years of acquiring good evidence from other countries the Department of Health now recommend that all children aged two to 17 are going to be offered a flu immunisation every year.
At present, annual flu immunisation is offered only to children with underlying health problems, as well as all over 65s and anyone with long term health conditions such as heart and lung disease or diabetes.
The Chief Medical Officer for England says that even if only one in three children are immunised, hospital admissions will drop by 11,000 and 2,000 lives will be saved each year. But the full programme may not be introduced for another two years.
Although most children who suffer from influenza recover completely within a week or two, they spread the disease among the population more than any other group. Some children, of course, do get serious complications and having the immunisation will greatly reduce this risk. But the big benefit comes from increasing ‘herd immunity’ – if more children are protected, there will be a much smaller pool of susceptible children to pass on the virus, reducing its spread in the community. That means people most vulnerable to major complications (including pregnant women and grandparents) will also be protected.
Each year, the viruses that are most likely to cause flu are identified in advance and vaccines are made to match them as closely as possible. The vaccines are recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
This year’s flu jab protects against:
H1N1 – the strain of flu that caused the swine flu pandemic in 2009
H3N2 – a strain of flu that can infect birds and mammals and was active in 2011
B/Wisconsin/1 – a strain of flu that was active in 2010
This will be the first non-injection flu vaccine for children – the national immunisation expert committee, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), has recommended using a nasal spray for childhood immunisation. This will certainly make the procedure less uncomfortable for children, and the vaccine, called Fluenz® has now been used for several years in the USA. It has evidence from scientific trials involving 20,000 children, so we know it has a good safety record as well as being effective.
There are two elements to the children’s flu immunisation programme this year:
a routine offer of vaccination to all two and three year olds (but not four years or older) on the 1 September 2013; and
geographical pilots for four to ten year olds (up to and including pupils in school year 6).
Extending the flu programme to all children will involve considerable planning and work in order to obtain a high level of uptake. For this reason, the programme will be rolled out over a number of seasons and will include pilots, allowing Public Health England and NHS England time to ascertain the most effective way of implementing it.
The Department of Health has secured Fluenz® vaccine for use in 2013/14 to allow the roll-out of the programme to all two and three year olds through general practice, as well as through a small number of local geographical pilots targeted at four to ten year olds.
If you have any worries about the flu immunisation the following link may be useful