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Flu vaccine pilots in schools ‘cut GP visits’

Early results from school flu vaccination pilots in children aged four to 11 years suggest they were a success, leading to reductions in GP consultations and hospitalisations, Public Health England has announced.

The evaluation showed over 100,000 children received at least one dose of the nasal Fluenz vaccine, representing an average 52.5% uptake, and the GP consultation rate for influenza-like illness was much lower in the pilot areas than other areas, with 17.7 compared with 64.5 consultations per 100,000 population.

Lab-confirmed influenza rates were also lower, at 8.5% compared with 16.2%, while the rate of emergency department respiratory attendances was 5.5% in pilot areas compared with 8.7% in non-pilot areas.

Public Health England (PHE) admitted the results were not statistically significant but said that, given the low flu activity in 2013/14, they ‘suggest a positive impact’.

PHE said these regional pilots – which took place in Bury, Cumbria, Gateshead, Leicester City, East Leicestershire and Rutland – will continue in September, along with additional pilots in children aged seven and eight. GPs are set to start vaccinating four-year-olds, as well as two- and three-year-olds as they did last year.

Dr Richard Peabody, study author and flu expert at PHE, said: ‘These early results of the uptake and impact of the first year of the childhood flu vaccine programme are encouraging and the uptake levels already achieved in primary school age children this season in the pilot areas are positive.’

He added: ‘Despite this season being of relatively low intensity, these early findings already suggest a likely impact of vaccinating school-age children on levels of circulating flu, which is encouraging for the roll-out.’