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Childhood immunisation schedule ‘may be streamlined’

By Lilian Anekwe

Exclusive: Department of Health advisers are set to consider changes to the childhood vaccination schedule aimed at reducing the number of appointments children attend to receive vaccinations, Pulse has learned.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation will consider vaccinations given to children at 12 and 13 months of age, and decide whether they should be combined into a single appointment to ‘streamline' the immunisation programme.

Affected immunisations would be the third dose of meningitis C and fourth dose of Haemophilus influenzae type b given at 12 months, and the third dose of pneumococcal vaccine and first dose of MMR given at 13 months.

The JCVI will discuss streamlining the childhood programme once it examines data on vaccine coverage and measles seroepidemiology at its meeting this week. GP vaccination experts said the move would make sense.

Dr Anthony Harnden, a GP in Wheatley, Oxfordshire, and JCVI member, said: ‘The JCVI is looking at the best ways to streamline the vaccine programme. Combining the 12- and 13-month injections could be sensible if data on serological protection and parental attitudes are encouraging.'

Dr George Kassianos, RCGP immunisation spokesperson and a GP in Bracknell, Berkshire, said the move had been widely discussed and was being supported by the college.

‘It would be better for compliance and mean less time vaccinating. There no point getting mums to come back after a month.. It's important to be able do more in one sitting - it can be difficult to get parent back.'

The Health Protection Agency published UK figures last week for the first quarter of 2010, showing 89% of children had completed the first MMR dose and 89% the pneumococcal third dose given at 13 months - significantly lower than uptake of 12-month vaccines.

But while DH advisers consider changes to existing schedule, introduction of a universal programme against chickenpox appears to have been ruled out.

An Institute of Child Health analysis, published online by Vaccine, found prevalence of varicella zoster in UK children by age five was 76.9% and incidence in children aged between three and five years was 32.2%.

‘If universal varicella immunisation were introduced in the UK, a schedule commencing early in the second year of life would be indicated', the researchers concluded.

But Dr Harden said: ‘The varicella paper does not change the issues. The vaccine is not cost-effective in the short term, and there could be a shift of the age of acquiring varicella upwards.'

Plan to streamline childhood jabs revealed