Further evidence is needed before the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) can make a recommendation to the government on extending the seasonal flu vaccination programme - that is the conclusion from the latest meeting held last month.
It follows a request from Health Secretary Andrew Lansley to look at whether the flu vaccination programme should be extended. The Department of Health now awaits further advice from the independent experts.
The committee confirmed that increasing flu vaccine uptake in older people and those in the clinical risk group, including children in clinical risk groups, should remain the priority.
The committee reviewed the evidence regarding the benefits of extending the flu vaccination programme to other groups. Its position is that:
• An initial study by the Health Protection Agency suggests it might be cost effective to vaccinate healthy children to reduce transmission of flu. However, further data is needed before the committee is able to make a recommendation to government on vaccinating healthy children.
• More information is needed on the availability of flu vaccines that provide better protection in children and that are likely to become available in the UK. More information from the vaccine manufacturers about how and when enough vaccine would be available is needed.
• Further assessment of the impact on GPs and schools of vaccinating healthy children and the resources needed is required, as well as further studies on the likely take up of the flu vaccine by healthy children.
Until the JCVI is in a position to make an official recommendation to government, the committee has advised that 65s and over, people in at risk groups and pregnant women should continue to be vaccinated. Those are the people most at risk from complications if they get flu.
The government’s Director of Immunisation Professor David Salisbury said:
“The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has said it is unable at this stage to recommend an extension of the flu vaccination programme as it needs further evidence.
“Extending the vaccination programme to all healthy children under 17 would be a huge undertaking, increasing the number of people who get the vaccine, so it is important that we get this decision absolutely right. A key consideration will be the availability, as the JCVI concluded, of a flu vaccine, given as nose drops, that would be more effective in protecting children against flu. But we need to understand from vaccine manufacturers how and when they would be able to produce the vaccine in the quantities we need.
“In the meantime, we continue to recommend that people in at risk groups, 65s and over and pregnant women do get vaccinated - they are the most at risk from suffering complications. The JCVI is clear that is the current priority.”
Notes to editors
1. For further information, contact the Department of Health press office on 020 7210 5221
2. A copy of the JCVI minutes can be found on the Department of Health website.
3. People should have the seasonal flu vaccination if they fall into any of the following groups:
a. People aged 65 years or over
b. Pregnant women in any stage of pregnancy
c. people with a serious medical condition (see below)
d. People living in a residential or nursing home, or
e. the main carer for an older or disabled person.
Even if people feel healthy, they may still be at increased risk of seasonal flu. The free seasonal flu vaccination is recommended for people with:
• a heart problem
• a chest complaint or breathing difficulties including, bronchitis, emphysema
• a kidney disease
• lowered immunity due to disease or treatment (such as steroid medication or cancer treatment)
• a liver disease
• had a stroke or a transient ischaemic attack (TIA)
• a neurological condition e.g. multiple sclerosis (MS) or cerebral palsy
• a problem with, or removal of, your spleen e.g. sickle cell disease.