Government advisors call for flu vaccine to be extended to over 60s
By Lilian Anekwe
Advisers to the Department of Health have recommended that it considers widening the annual flu vaccination programme to include healthy adults aged 60-64.
The move comes after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation's flu subgroup – which makes recommendations on national flu vaccine policy – discussed evidence that the rate of hospitalisations begins to rise sharply in patients as young as 50.
At least one study submitted to the subgroup has concluded that vaccinating people in the 50-64 age group could be cost-effective, prompting moves to reconsider the issue.
Minutes from last December's meeting of the flu subgroup reveal that moves to decide on such an extension have been ‘prioritised'.
‘There is UK data to show a clear rise in hospitalisations in the over-50s and it was thought that vaccinating 60- to 64-year-olds was definitely worth considering,' the committee concluded.
‘The subgroup was informed that a published study looking at the cost-effectiveness of vaccinating healthy adults aged 50-64 had already been carried out in the UK and that this paper should be considered by the JCVI to determine what, if any, further work was required to show cost-effectiveness.'
In 2006 a study by Professor Karl Nicholson, a member of the JCVI's flu subgroup and professor of infectious disease at the University of Leicester, showed adults aged 50-64 could be included in the campaign at about a third of the cost of the DH's £30,000 per quality-adjusted-life-year funding threshold.
Dr Douglas Fleming, also a member of the flu subgroup and director of the RCGP's Birmingham Research Unit, said the time had come for the Government to look afresh at reducing the age threshold for flu vaccination: ‘Admission rates for respiratory illness start rising sharply after 50. We need more data to address the issue of vaccinating people aged 50-64.'
Dr George Kassianos, a GP in Bracknell, Berkshire, and RCGP spokesperson on immunisation, said: ‘For the past six years, I have been calling for the eligible age for NHS annual flu vaccination to be brought down to 50 years to ensure a much greater coverage of patients with chronic disease.'JCVI subgroup recommendations on flu
• Adults aged 60-64: ‘Definitely worth considering'
• Children: ‘Not enough robust evidence to demonstrate effectiveness'
• Pregnant women: ‘Unlikely to be cost effective unless it also significantly impacts neonates'
Source: Minutes of the influenza JCVI subgroup, 10 December 2008