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Flu vaccination in children ‘would reduce elderly deaths’

Vaccinating children against influenza would dramatically reduce the number of GP consultations for flu and could prevent around 20,000 deaths, say researchers.

In a study modeling the effect of vaccinating children aged two to 18 against influenza found 50% coverage would prevent 2.3 million cases of influenza A and B annually in this age range and a further 3 million indirectly through herd immunity - an 84% reduction overall in infections.

This new evidence will increase the pressure on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to introduce the measure next year, having agreed to it ‘in principle' last year.

The study modelled vaccinating pre-schoolers only or in combination with school-aged children (up to age 18) at coverage rates of 10%, 50%, 80%.  Efficacy of the live attenuated influenza vaccine was assumed to be 80%.

At 50% coverage, the number of GP consultations would be reduced by 690,000, an 84% reduction. At 80% coverage, the reduction in consultations would be 790,000, or a 96% reduction.

At 50% coverage, there would be 14,740 fewer deaths in the remaining population, while 80% coverage would prevent 18,440 fewer deaths, mostly among the elderly population.

They found only ‘modest' gains in infections would be made by increasing coverage to 80%, preventing 2.4m infections in the age range and 3.5m outside it, a 96% reduction

Lead author Dr Richard Pitman, senior health economist at Oxford Outcomes, said: ‘A policy of paediatric vaccination could significantly reduce the clinical burden of influenza in England and Wales, in all age groups, with the added value of herd immunity helping to protect the young and the elderly who are at highest risk of complications.'

Dr George Kassianos, RCGP lead for immunization and a GP in Bracknell, Berks, welcomed the findings: ‘This study confirms beyond any doubt that flu vaccination in children is extremely beneficial to those children, and also to their parents and the elderly.'

‘The JCVI should look at this again as a matter of urgency – we can't sit on the fence any longer. We need to start next September for the flu season.'

Dr Kassianos said that 50% coverage was easily achievable within general practice: ‘50% is perfect. If we go into general practice and introduce this we will probably get 50 to 60% coverage – beyond that is a bonus.'

‘Yes, it will be a burden, but we can take it on very easily if we open on Saturdays to do the bulk of it. And there are huge benefits in all those saved consultations.'

Vaccine 2011. Published online December 13

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