Last year’s influenza vaccination programme reduced the risk of infection by 66% in children, but had little effect on the elderly, according to Public Health England.
Data published by the government arm’s-length body shows the vaccine reduced the risk of children getting flu by 65.8% in the 2016-17 season across the UK.
“Achieving high coverage in children with a vaccine… will offer those over 65 protection from flu”
The risk of flu was reduced by just over 40% among adults aged 18 to 64. However, there was “no significant effectiveness” among those aged 65 and over, the data shows.
This trend for older patients thought to be due to the jab failing to protect against the H3 flu strain, which circulated last winter.
Public Health England (PHE) said the poor results among older people also highlighted the importance of vaccination in children “who can spread flu more than others”.
The UK goal is to offer flu vaccine – delivered via a nasal spray – to all children aged two to 11. PHE said vaccinating more children would not only protect them from flu but also boost protection for older patients and those with weakened immune systems.
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In 2017-18, the vaccination programme is being expanded to also include children in Year 4 at school – eight to nine-year-olds.
Meanwhile, four-year-olds who were previously offered the vaccine in GP surgeries will now be offered it at school.
This means all those aged four to eight will be offered the vaccine in the forthcoming season, noted PHE.
“We know children can spread flu more than others and, if we can keep them well, it means that the infection is less likely to pass to those who are at high risk,” said Jenny Harries, deputy medical director for PHE.
She added: “Achieving high coverage in children with a vaccine, which has been shown to work well, will offer those over 65 protection from flu, even though we did not find that the vaccine offered significant protection in this age group.”
PHE highlighted that other steps to mitigate flu included influenza antiviral treatment and prophylaxis.
Meanwhile, new vaccines were being developed, which may provide better protection for older patients, it said.
For example, as reported earlier this week by Nursing Times, a new influenza vaccine that is particularly effective at protecting people over the age of 65 has been approved for use by the UK’s drug regulatory body and is expected to be available to GP practices from next year.
The new adjuvanted trivalent influenza vaccine (aTIV) was approved for use by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency and is being marketed under the name Fluad.