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Hib campaign hailed a cautious success as infection rates fall

The Government's controversial Haemophilus influenza type b booster campaign has been cautiously hailed a success with disease rates already in decline, despite complaints from GPs about its implementation and funding.

Government vaccine advisers are now 'looking seriously' at whether a fourth booster should be added to the childhood vaccination schedule.

As the campaign ended last week with some GPs still disputing how the £1 administration fee should be split, the Health Protection Agency reported that early indications showed levels of Hib in young children were falling.

Rates of infection in under-fives rose four-fold from 1998 to 2.81 per 100,000 in 2001, prompting the catch-up vaccination campaign.

GPC prescribing spokes-man Dr Peter Fellows, a GP in Lydney, Gloucestershire, said the campaign had been 'well worth doing' . He added GPs should carry on giving the booster and called on the Gov- ernment to continue funding.

Professor Brent Taylor, community paediatrician and Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation member, said the committee would seriously be considering add-ing a fourth Hib booster to the routine childhood vaccination schedule.

Although full figures will not be available until early next year, take-up for the booster vaccination was estimated at around 60 per cent, which Professor Taylor said appeared to have been sufficient to stop Hib rates rising.

But he added: 'We may need to extend boosters in some areas as Hib is more common in those living in deprived circumstances.'

The JCVI does not yet have enough evidence to decide if a fourth booster will be needed to protect children against Hib, a disease that used to cause about 30 deaths per year in the under-fours and leave a further 80 children with permanent brain damage.

Professor Taylor said the decline in immunity could have been caused by the use of the less effective DtaP/Hib vaccine due to a shortage of the DTwP/Hib. He said: 'The vaccine is no longer being given in that form.'

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