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Pneumococcal campaign is 'waste of money'

A row has broken out over the Government decision to instruct GPs to vaccinate millions of elderly patients against pneumococcal disease this winter.

A damning review in the influential evidence-based journal Bandolier claims the policy is a waste of time and that scarce resources would be better spent on increasing flu vaccine uptake in at-risk groups.

Blanket vaccination of all over-65s will prevent just six cases of pneumococcal bacteraemia over a period of a few years, the review concluded.

It was published as it emerged Government vaccine advisers were split over the decision to tell GPs to add polysaccharide pneumococcal immunisation to the annual flu vaccination drive.

Professor Michael Langman, chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, told Pulse the minutes of the meeting held in May last year made it clear some members had reservations.

The minutes said: 'Members were aware the evidence was not as robust as they would have wished. However, given the burden of disease, particularly in the over-65s and the safety of the vaccine, there was sufficient evidence to support a change in policy.'

GPs in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been told to offer pneumococcal vaccine to all over-65s this winter. In England, vaccination will be limited to over-80s this year because of vaccine shortages, with an extension to over-75s next year and over-65s the following winter.

GPs will be paid £6.80 for every vaccine given.

Professor Benjamin Lipsky, author of the Bandolier review and professor of medicine and infection control at the University of Washington in the US, told Pulse: 'Prospective studies show no benefit in reducing pneumonia, respiratory illness of any kind or mortality and hospitalisations.

'Limited funds could be better spent to ensure at-risk patients get influenza vaccine.'

Some studies suggested 'modest' efficacy against invasive disease caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae, but the cost-effectiveness of mass vaccination against this rare event was 'dubious at best', he added.

Dr George Rae, chair of the BMA representative body and a GP in North Tyneside, said: 'This is an unsatisfactory hotchpotch. If they are saying GPs must do this against a backdrop of a not very effective vaccine, this flies in the face of evidence-based medicine.'

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