GP practices will start offering the new intranasal influenza vaccine to all two-year-old children from this September, after the Department of Health announced the new programme will start being rolled out a year early.
Under the plans, practices will give the vaccine to all children aged two years – around 650,000 children in total across the UK – with the aim of having as many vaccinated as possible before the flu season gets underway.
The Government first unveiled plans to extend the flu vaccination programme last year, a move public health experts believe should prevent thousands more hospitalisations and deaths due to the infection each year.
The DH said the programme can now start early because more vaccine than expected is available. Some two-year-olds will be able to have the vaccine at routine immunisation visits, but others will need to make a special visit under the flu programme.
A DH spokesperson said: ‘We’re a bit ahead of schedule with the vaccine, which means we have enough to vaccinate all two-year-olds this year with a view to rolling it out further next year, so it’s more of a phased implementation. Obviously younger children spread infection a lot in the community, so that’s partly why we are starting with them.
‘The vaccine can be given at the same time as other scheduled vaccinations if appropriate. So if children are called in at their normal childhood vaccination during that period anyway they will get it at the same time, if not it will require an addition visit.’
A small number of areas are also set to pilot vaccination of primary and preschool aged children this year, with a view to rolling out the programme to all children in those age groups in 2014, while pilots for secondary school children will be run in 2014 ready for full roll-out in 2015.
The spokesperson added: ‘As this is the first time we are doing it on a big scale with children, we’re piloting it in some areas [in older children] to see how it works, to see how the NHS copes with introducing it.’
The GPC is currently in negotiations with the Government to iron out how practices will be paid to carry out the additional work for this year.
GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey told Pulse: ‘We are in active discussions with NHS England about it and will be able to make an announcement very shortly.’
There have been concerns about the impact of vaccinating large numbers of children in the short pre-flu season ‘window’, on top of an already crowded immunisation schedule.
However, Dr Vautrey said practices would cope with the next wave of new immunisations. ‘It’s always difficult when you’ve got a short timeline to fit it in with everything else that a practice has to do, but I’m sure practices will rise to that challenge,’ he said.
As revealed by Pulse last week, the DH confirmed that rotavirus vaccination of children under four months will start early, from July this year.
In addition, the new shingles vaccination programme for people aged 70 years, with a catch-up programme for those aged up to 79 years, is to start from September.
Practice work to carry out shingles vaccinations was covered by the 2013 contract, as was that for rotavirus, which makes up for income lost on giving the meningitis C four-month booster, now replaced by a booster given to teenagers aged 12–13 years.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England said: ‘The introduction of the oral Rotavirus vaccine in the US and parts of Europe has had a major impact on preventing young children from developing this unpleasant vomiting and diarrhoeal disease.
‘The vaccine is very easy to administer and involves placing a droplet of liquid into the babies’ mouths. In the countries where the vaccine has already been introduced, the uptake has been high and has resulted in rapid and sustained reductions in childhood rotavirus hospitalisations. We are excited to be offering this vaccine as part of the national infant immunisation programme in the UK.’
‘As well as the rotavirus vaccine for infants, the upcoming introduction of childhood influenza and adolescent MenC immunisation programmes along with routine vaccination against shingles for older adults will all continue to contribute to our highly successful vaccination programme which we can boast in the UK.’
Dr George Kassianos, GP in Wokingham, Surrey and RCGP immunisation lead, told Pulse the new vaccinations due to be introduced are ‘a step in the right direction’.
He said the new flu vaccine will be easy for children to accept, being ‘a light shot of mist in each nostril’.
Dr Kassianos said the rotavirus vaccine is ‘a most welcome vaccine, as it will reduce young children’s suffering, hospital admissions, parents’ absenteeism from work for family care, and also GP consultations’.
And he added: ‘Every GP knows too well how patients suffer when they get shingles, and worse when they get post-herpetic neuralgia. I am delighted to see the start of the shingles vaccination programme in the UK. I would have liked to have seen this programme include all people aged 50 years and over but we can at least start now with the 70- to 79-year-olds.’
Immunisation updates this year
What Intranasal vaccine (Fluenz)
To be given to all UK children aged two years
Pilot studies in preschool and primary school aged children
When From September 2013 (instead of autumn 2014)
How many Around 650,000 two-year-olds
What Oral vaccine (Rotarix)
Given in two doses to infants starting at two months; can be given at the same time as routine vaccinations
When from July 2013 (instead of September 2013)
Herpes zoster (shingles)
What Single dose of Zostavax for people aged 70-79 years; can be given at the same time as seasonal flu vaccination
When September 2013
How many Around 800,000 eligible in first year
What Teenage booster dose as part of schools-based programme, replacing current booster at four months
When Teenage booster to be offered in 2013/2014 academic year