By Lilian Anekwe
The Department of Health has maintained that its advisors were right not to sanction a flu vaccination campaign in the under fives, but has promised a ‘major review’ of the policy for next year.
The defence came as the number of consultations for influenza-like illness seen at sentinel GP practices in England and Wales rose to 108.4 per 100,000, from the 98.4 per 100,000 reported in the previous three-day week.
Consultation rates stood at 55.8 per 100,000 in Scotland, 92.8 per 100,000 in Wales and 274.4 per 100,000 in Wales in the week ending the 9th January, according to weekly data compiled by the RCGP and the Health Protection Agency.
Confirmed influenza-related deaths also rose from 50 last week to 112 this week.
Though the number of consultations and deaths have both risen since the previous week, interim chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies said that the figures showed that there had not been a ‘dramatic upturn’, and added cautiously that the flu season may be beginning to plateau.
The plateau may be disrupted by the return of children to school, however, and calls remain for children, particularly the under fives, to be vaccinated against seasonal flu.
Responding to this, Professor David Salisbury, the DH director of immunisation, said the evidence for vaccinating all children under five ‘didn’t stack up’.
He added: ‘There isn’t the evidence for the under fives over the risk groups that we have. The argument that we should tease out different age groups is not supported by evidence that justifies using the vaccine in that way.’
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s flu sub-group had initially recommended under fives were added to the list of at-risk groups in January 2010.
But serosurveillance data from the H1N1 swine flu pandemic, presented at a meeting of the main committee in June, showed most children had already been exposed to the swine flu virus – as many as 62% in London and 43% in other parts of England.
Professor Salisbury said: ‘When the committee saw that the felt it undermined the recommendation from the sub-group. The main committee’s recommendation was based on evidence. The evidence did not support a risk that was great enough to change policy.’
But vaccinating children against seasonal flu would be the subject of a ‘major review’ over the coming months, Professor Salisbury admitted.
‘The JCVI is going to do a major review to ensure that their advice for next year’s seasonal flu is updated as require. The review will include children. We are already looking at what lessons we need to take forward and will be advised by the scientific experts on this.’
Flu vaccine uptake currently stands at 70.8% for people in England aged over 65 and 46.3% for those in a risk group aged under 65.
DH stands by child flu jab recommendation