Vaccine delay warning
By Lilian Anekwe
Delays in vaccinating against influenza leave patients at greatly increased risk from the disease even when virus levels peak late, a new study concludes.
At-risk patients vaccinated after a crucial cut-off point in mid-November had a 78 per cent increased risk of all-cause mortality in the following winter, the large-scale analysis revealed.
The research will cause further concern after GPs were warned in June that some of them will have to wait until December to receive vaccine supplies for this year's campaign.
Patients who were vaccinated after mid-November were
also at increased risk of
hospitalisation and likely to be hospitalised for longer – even though they were generally younger and healthier than those vaccinated earlier in the season.
But there were no increases in hospitalisations or deaths in the following summer, indicating that the effects might be specific to the flu season.
The study, conducted by researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel and published in the journal Preventive Medicine, followed up over 68,000 patients given the flu vaccine in Israel, where flu generally peaks between December and March.
Dr Gabriel Chodick, a researcher on the study and an epidemiologist from Maccabi Healthcare Services in Tel Aviv, said the implications of the research for this year's flu vaccine campaign in the UK were clear.
'Any delay in the administration of the flu vaccine after
mid-November could increase the risk for death and hospitalisation during the following winter. I would certainly recommend that all eligible persons get the vaccine on time.'
Dr Douglas Fleming, a GP member of the influenza sub-group of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, agreed, saying: 'If you vaccinate in November you're too late. The fact of the matter is doctors should do their utmost to minimise the delay once they receive their supply.'
But Dr Tom Jefferson, a
medical epidemiologist at the Cochrane Vaccines Field, questioned the value of the study. 'If people are serious about preventing influenza then we need bi-vaccination, and better vaccines than the ones we've got.'