The Department of Health has published details help clinicians prepare for the national influenza programme for 2014-15, including its expansion to include more children.
Last season’s programme introduced routine vaccination for all those aged two and three year’s old – but not four years or older – on 1 September 2013, and all primary school aged children in seven pilot areas.
The programme for 2014-15 expands this to a routine offer of vaccination to all those aged two, three and four years old – but not five years or older – on 1 September 2014.
The seven primary school pilots that started in 2013-14 will continue but they will be joined in 2014-15 by at least 12 pilots in secondary school aged children in years 7 and 8.
The trial expansion of the programme to children was recommended in 2012 by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, the independent group of clinical experts that advises the DH.
The DH letter on the 2014-15 programme said: “The continuing extension of the programme to include vaccination of more children this year will not only provide protection to those children but also an increasing opportunity to interrupt transmission of flu to the wider population, thereby saving more lives.”
The JCVI recommended that a live attenuated influenza vaccine be used as the vaccine of choice for children, of which there is currently only one on the market – Fluenz Tetra. It is administered by the intranasal route and is supplied in an applicator that allows a divided dose to be administered in both nostrils.
Extending flu vaccination to children will reduce the impact of flu by directly averting many cases in children. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation also concluded that, by reducing flu transmission in the community, it will avert many cases of severe flu and flu-related deaths in older adults and people with clinical risk factors.
Overall, the DH letter states that in 2014-15 the following people are eligible for flu vaccination – those aged 65 years and over; those aged six months to under 65 in clinical risk groups; pregnant women; all two, three and four year olds; school-aged children in pilot areas; those in long-stay residential care homes; carers.
As in previous years, the letter stated that those eligible should be given flu vaccination as early as possible between September and early November before flu starts circulating in the community.
It noted that winter 2013-14 had “seen low levels of circulating flu”, but added “we must not be complacent”.