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Doubts over child flu vaccination

New research has questioned the benefits of expanding the flu vaccine campaign to include children.

The Government's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has looked at the evidence for vaccination of children several times, but never been convinced there was enough data.

And a new study looking at vaccination in the UK, where children are covered, has found no benefits for hospitalisations or doctor visits.

Among 414 children vaccinated against flu in the 2003/4 and 2004/5 flu seasons, there was no significant difference in hospitalisations or visits than in more than 5,000 unvaccinated controls in three countries.

The research conflicts with data released in August by the Health Protection Agency suggesting vaccinating children aged six months to six years could reduce incidence of influenza A by 38% and influenza B by 70%, and would ‘bring benefits to both those vaccinated and the community'.

Vaccine effectiveness in the study, in October's Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, ranged from just 7% to 52% for children aged between six and 59 moths.

Dr Peter Szilagyi, a paediatrician at the Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York, said 'Significant influenza vaccine effectiveness could not be demonstrated for any season, age or setting.'

A second study found vaccinating patients with asthma and COPD against the flu may not help prevent the exacerbations associated with infection with the virus.

Researchers examined data from a 2003 Canadian health survey of more than 134,000 people and found patients with asthma vaccinated against flu were 80% more likely to experience exacerbations requiring use of inhalers or nebulizers than unvaccinated controls.

Despite growing concerns over the efficacy of vaccination, Professor David Salisbury, the Department of Health's director of immunisation, urged at-risk patients to attend GP clinics for the annual flu vaccine. ‘There is a group with risk factors under 65 who ought to get vaccinated and only 46% do.'

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