Initial results from the child flu vaccine pilot programme launched last year are “encouraging”, according to Public Health England researchers.
Last year, four to 11 year olds were offered flu vaccination in seven pilot areas in England ahead of the 2013-14 influenza season, as were all children aged two and three years old.
The pilots took place in Bury, Cumbria, Gateshead, Leicester City, East Leicestershire and Rutland, and the London Boroughs of Havering and Newham and South East Essex.
The move formed the first step in extending flu vaccination to all children aged two to 17, as recommended by government advisors from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
According to latest findings, a total of 104,792 primary school age children received at least one dose of vaccine – an overall uptake of 52.5% – which was usually delivered via a nasal spray.
The GP consultation rate for influenza-like illness was higher in non-pilot areas (64.5 per 100,000), compared to pilot areas (17.7 per 100,000), said researchers in the journal Eurosurveillance.
In addition, the cumulative proportion of emergency department respiratory attendances was 5.5% in pilot compared to 8.7% in non-pilot areas.
Meanwhile, the provisional uptake among two and three year olds was 42.6% in the UK and 39.6% in England.
The researchers described the results from the pilot areas as “encouraging”, while acknowledging that they did not reach statistical significance.
Study author Dr Richard Pebody said: “Despite this season being of relatively low intensity, these early findings already suggest a likely impact of vaccinating school-age children on levels of circulating flu, which is encouraging for the on-going roll-out.
“The high uptake levels achieved in most pilot areas using school-based delivery demonstrate the feasibility of achieving high coverage levels,” he added.
From September, vaccination against flu will again be offered to all children aged two to four years of age.
The pilots for primary school children established in 2013-14 will also continue and a number of additional pilots for secondary school age children aged 11-12 will begin.
- Read the full study paper in Eurosurveillance