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Parent support vital on flu jabs

Giving flu vaccinations to children won’t work unless parents support it

OnMedica Staff

Monday, 04 August 2008

Parents will need to be completely convinced of the benefits of a flu campaign for children if it is going to be successful, say the Royal College of General Practitioners.

The college’s calls for "a communication campaign" with parents before any changes to the vaccination programme are brought in follows extensive media coverage of unpublished research.

The article in press in the journal Vaccine uses mathematical modelling to estimate the benefit of vaccinating children against flu. It suggests giving an annual injection to every child under five would reduce some flu infections significantly.

The research, by the Health Protection Agency’s Centre for Infections, points out there is increasing interest in routine vaccination of children against flu. It estimates that long term influenza A incidence could decrease by 11-21% in the whole population if those aged six-24 months were given the jab. If this were extended from six months to 60 months, the fall would be 25-35% and extending it to those aged six months to 16 years would lead to a 65-97% reduction.

Incident of influenza B would fall 25-35%, 44-69% and 85-96% respectively through the same age targeting, the researchers said.

The model assumes at least 60% of the targeted age groups would be vaccinated.

Approximately 1% of those aged under 15 years visit their GP every year about a flu like illness, said the HPA. Its analysis suggests this could be cut with a programme targeting the young that achieved high levels of coverage. It would also lead to a fall in hospitalisations and deaths from flu, particularly amongst older people.

However, achieving such high levels of coverage seems unlikely unless parents are firmly brought on board, says the RCGP.

Widespread controversy and confusion over the MMR vaccine in recent years led many parents and carers to reject this jab for their children, the result being patchy pockets of successful coverage, and a fall in overall herd immunity.

The US already offer flu vaccination to those aged six months to five years, but the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation decided not to recommend it for the UK in 2006. This new research, plus further studies on the population based impact of vaccination amongst children, could prompt a review.

The RCGP has already called for children to be vaccinated because of their high rates of infectivity.

"Unfortunately vaccination has had a bad name recently, completely against all the evidence we have," said Professor Steve Field of the RCGP. "What does need to happen is to have a very good communication campaign with parents so they can see what the benefits are."

A spokesperson for the HPA said: "These results are very preliminary and require more analysis and study before any final conclusion can be made."

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