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'Flu vaccination for all would be cost-effective'

Mass influenza immunisation of healthy adults and children is cost-effective and a change in vaccination policy should be urgently considered, concludes a Government-commissioned assessment.

The findings were published as it emerged that Department of Health vaccine advisers are to consider adding flu vaccination to the childhood immunisation schedule.

A decision will also be taken at a meeting next spring on whether GPs should be asked to undertake mass vaccination of healthy adults under 65.

The assessment, led by Professor Karl Nicholson, a member of the respiratory sub-group of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, also concluded that flu vaccination was either 'low cost or cost-saving' in healthy adults and children.

The cost per quality adjusted life year (QALY) gained was £10,184 in healthy adults and £5,024 in children.

Professor Nicholson, consultant in infectious diseases at Leicester Royal Infirmary, said limiting vaccination to high-risk groups was 'not the way forward' and mass vaccination of healthy adults and children was 'clearly not unreasonable'.

He said money being spent on oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) for flu prevention and treatment, as recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, would be better spent on extending vaccination to healthy people.

His unpublished research showed most patients who are hospitalised and die from flu are not in at-risk groups.

The JCVI respiratory sub-group met urgently last month to endorse the current policy of restricting vaccination to high-risk groups.

But JCVI chair Professor Michael Langman, professor of medicine at the University of Birmingham, told Pulse: 'The flu group will look again at whether the programme needs to be extended. It seems simple to say we ought to vaccinate healthy children, but one has to be sure it is as cost-effective as has been suggested.'

Professor Langman said it was also 'always a possibility' that the 65-plus cut-off for vaccinating healthy adults would be lowered.

Dr Douglas Fleming, director of the RCGP research unit and a member of the JCVI respiratory sub-group, said vaccine supplies would not have proved sufficient to widen the vaccination policy this winter.

Flu levels drop

Flu levels across the UK have dropped from the peak rates seen last week. But while the Health Protection Agency says flu may have reached an early peak it warns it is too early to say whether levels of illness will go on declining or will increase again when the weather gets colder.

Last week GP consultations in England dropped from a high of 62.2 per 100,000 to 54.5, in Scotland the rate fell to 116 from 138, and Northern Ireland saw a decrease from 140 to 126. Only Wales saw a slight increase but rates are still below baseline activity.

Young children are still most affected, and consultation rates remain high in this age group, at 127.5 in 0-4 year olds in England.

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