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Vaccination of children could target flu best

Study shows targeting children for flu jabs could save lives

Adrian O'Dowd

Wednesday, 09 October 2013

Targeting more children with flu vaccination could help save more lives than simply giving the jab to at-risk groups of adult patients, claims a new study published in PLOS Medicine.

A team of researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and colleagues wanted to look at the best use of resources when trying to vaccinate amongst the general public to prevent winter flu.

Every winter, millions of people catch flu and although most people recover quickly, seasonal flu outbreaks kill about half a million people annually.

In countries with advanced health systems such as the UK, these deaths occur mainly among older people and individuals with long-term illnesses such as asthma and heart disease, hence the Department of Health’s annual seasonal vaccination programme that is targeted at at-risk groups and people aged 65 and over.

The researchers designed a flu transmission model by combining clinical data from GP consultations for flu-like illness over 14 years in England and Wales with information on how viruses spread in the community and data on levels of immunity.

Analysis of the results showed 0.39 infections had been prevented and 1.74 lives had been saved for every 1,000 doses over the past 14 years.

They also calculated that expanding the programme to five to 16-year-olds could prevent 0.7 infections and save 1.95 lives per 1,000 doses.

This supported the government’s approach which is to extend vaccination amongst children.

Routine vaccination of two and three-year-olds began in September as part of a new childhood flu vaccination programme and the Department is planning to extend this to all children aged two to 17 over the next few years.

The researchers said: “Importantly, given that influenza vaccination for children is being rolled out in England and Wales from September 2013, the model confirms that children are key spreaders of influenza and suggests that a vaccination program targeting children will reduce influenza infections and potentially influenza deaths in the whole population.

“The most efficient way of reducing overall influenza-attributable morbidity and mortality appears to be to target the key spreaders - children. Even with modest coverage, substantial further reductions in morbidity and mortality could be achieved.”

DOI:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001527

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