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The UK's childhood immunisation schedule will become significantly safer next month, with the long-awaited
introduction of a combined acellular pertussis and inactivated polio vaccine.
Pulse has learned the Chief Medical Officer will be announcing the changes next week, now that supply problems have been resolved.
The new vaccines are less likely to cause side-effects and the introduction of acellular pertussis means the child schedule will now be free of thiomersal.
Dr David Salisbury, the department's head of immunisation, told members of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation there had been delays in the infant vaccines becoming available, but that dTaP/IPV would be introduced in September.
The dTap/IPV vaccine will replace dTwP and oral polio for infants in the two, three and four-month schedule and in the pre-school booster, while a new Td/IPV vaccine will be introduced for the teenage booster. The department has also updated the Green Book to give clearer advice on vaccine safety and include information on the new vaccines.
Professor Brent Taylor, professor of community child health at Royal Free and University College Medical School and member of the JCVI, said the committee had been building up to the switch for the past three years.
Although problems with supplies of dTaP/IPV seem to have been ironed out, the department has indicated that the initial change may be limited to pre-school booster vaccines. 'This will simplify the childhood immunisation programme and it will be safer,' said Professor Taylor.
'We have now reviewed all the contraindications and it will be much more straightforward for clinicians,' he added.
Professor Taylor said the switch would reduce the antigenic proteins in the infant schedule to just 51, down from 3,027 in 1984. He said GPs could use the figures to reassure parents who are
worried about vaccine safety.
Dr David Baxter, district immunisation co-ordinator in Stepping Hill Hospital and lecturer in public health medicine at the University of Manchester, said he suspected the department had been running down stocks of old vaccines, as GPs in his area had had problems getting hold of DTwP for the past month.
By Emma Wilkinson