MONEY spent on the new flu vaccination programme for people aged 65 and over would have been better targeted at children, experts have said.
Youngsters are the main spreaders of flu and vaccination protects not only them but others too.
The claims were made by a team writing in the journal PLoS Medicine. Their research, looking at 14 flu seasons in England and Wales, “suggests the targeting all individuals 65 years and older was not the best strategy.”
“Targeting children would likely have prevented more cases and deaths for similar numbers of doses, even if low levels of coverage (30%) had been achieved.”
Study lead author Dr Marc Baguelin, said vaccinating people aged 65 years and over had worked quite well in terms of reducing death rates in this age group.
“But in terms of efficiency, the potential is that child vaccination at this point would have been a more efficient use of resources.” About 600 people a year die from flu in the UK, rising to around 13,000 during an epidemic.
At present, people aged 65 and over and those at high risk, such as with diabetes or heart disease or who are pregnant, are vaccinated annually.
This week, Andrew Foster, the chief executive of Wigan hospitals trust dispelled claims that only older, vulnerable people are at risk from the virus, after it was revealed that 70 per cent of fatal influenza cases occurred among people aged between 15 and 64 last winter.
Mr Foster received his jab this week from Pauline Law, Deputy Director of Nursing and Patient Services who said: “We must always remember that quite a number of people can be at risk of becoming seriously ill should they catch the flu. The flu jab cannot give you flu. It’s impossible as the virus doesn’t contain any live viruses.”
Doctors say a fall in temperature to below 12 degrees Celsius, plus common winter illnesses such as coughs, colds, flu and the winter vomiting bug Norovirus can have an impact on their health if they aren’t prepared.
Dr Richard Pebody, head of seasonal flu surveillance at the HPA, said: “The 2011/2012 flu season was one of the lowest on record – following two years of high flu activity. If you are in an at-risk group you may already have been or will be invited to receive your flu jab by your GP If you haven’t, the HPA recommends that all those in an at risk group accept the vaccination.”
Contact your GP for information. Dr Baguelin said: “Traditionally, vaccination programmes have targeted over-65s or people with health conditions who are most at risk of serious complications from flu. But by targeting children, who our study confirms are the main spreaders of the flu virus, we would expect to see significantly fewer cases of flu in the wider population and a reduction in flu-related deaths among elderly people. The roll-out of the new children’s flu vaccine is already under way. Improving vaccine coverage among children should be a priority as our findings suggest there will be great benefits to the community as a whole.”
Figures on the number of vaccines given last winter show uptake of 73.4% for those aged 65 years and over and 51.3% for at-risk groups.