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Advisers considering infant flu vaccination

Government advisors are a step closer to recommending universal flu vaccination in infants after concluding it was likely to be cost-effective for the NHS, writes Emma Wilkinson.

A panel of influenza experts considered a new modelling study from the Health Protection Agency finding immunising under-twos could protect them from infection and prevent deaths in the elderly. A second model, like the first based on general practice data, found vaccinating infants would be cost-effective assuming it had the predicted effects in adults.

The influenza subgroup of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation concluded the most cost-effective policy was vaccinating children aged six to 23 months ­ with a cost of £515 per life-year saved.

But the subgroup said it would 'ideally' need new trial evidence on the effectiveness of the vaccine in under-twos before taking a final decision.

Professor Karl Nicholson, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Leicester and member of the influenza subgroup, said: 'Flu does cause appreciable illness. But there's no compelling evidence very young children will respond adequately. We need to make sure the vaccine is safe.'

Professor Nicholson said the subgroup would be looking with 'considerable interest' at data from the US and Canada where infants are given the vaccine from age six months. He added: 'I would want to be reassured whatever was planned was practical and wouldn't be overburdensome on GPs.'

The JCVI discussions came as a new Cochrane review found there was still 'very little' evidence for vaccinating under-twos. Dr Anthony Harnden, senior lecturer in primary care at the University of Oxford and review author, said more evidence was needed.

'There's a lot of evidence children are the main transmitters of flu and a preventive intervention might have a substantial effect. But the problem is there aren't the trials.'

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