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More powerful flu jab available for over 65s this winter

Aims to cut associated GP visits and hospital admissions among this age group

Caroline White

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

A more powerful flu jab is to be made available for those aged 65 and over this winter in a bid to significantly reduce the impact of the infection on the NHS, Public Health England (PHE) has announced.

The vaccine, available for the first time this year in the UK, has the potential to cut GP consultations by 30,000 and hospital admissions by more than 2,000 as well as preventing over 700 hospital deaths from flu in England, says PHE.

This would alleviate some of the impact that seasonal flu exerts on the population, workplaces, and the NHS.

The strengthened “adjuvanted” vaccine is expected to significantly increase the effectiveness of the jab by boosting the body’s immune response to the jab. Typically, older adults’ bodies don’t respond as well to the flu vaccine because their immune systems are weakened by age. Older adults are also more likely to develop complications from flu.

The broader flu vaccination programme will also be improved by offering all eligible adults under 65, including pregnant women and those with long-term health conditions, the “quadrivalent” vaccine in injected form.

This protects against a total of four strains of flu; two strains of influenza A and two strains of influenza B.

Professor Paul Cosford, medical director at PHE, said: “We know adults over 65 are more likely to catch and have complications from flu so have the most to gain from an improved vaccine. By introducing an enhanced flu vaccine for this age group they will be better protected as well as helping to reduce the spread of flu to those around them.”

He added: “Further protection will be gained by offering flu vaccine to more children this year and giving a vaccine that provides protection against four strains of flu to all eligible people under the age of 65. We encourage everyone who is eligible to get the flu vaccine from their general practice or pharmacy before the end of November.”

The vaccination programme will also be improved by extending the nasal spray vaccine to primary school children in year five. This programme will eventually roll out to all primary school children.

When it does, the evidence suggests that an additional 63,000 GP consultations could be prevented each year. Children tend to be “super-spreaders” of flu, because they don’t wash their hands as often as adults, so protecting them is crucial for protecting the rest of the population.

Chief medical officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies said that the newly available vaccine “could prevent hundreds of deaths and save thousands of GP and hospital hours – I strongly encourage everyone in vulnerable groups to get the life-saving vaccine as we head into winter.”

Professor Jane Cummings, chief nurse for England, said that NHS staff would also need to do their bit.

“This year, the public will be better protected from flu than ever before, with at-risk groups being offered the most effective vaccine available and every member of NHS staff expected to get their jab.”

The flu vaccine will be available from early October. PHE’s annual flu marketing campaign will launch on 8 October (to tie in with vaccine availability).

The campaign will be one of the first to roll out under the newly launched “Help Us Help You” brand. “Help Us Help You” aims to encourage people to take appropriate actions (be that getting the flu jab or accessing the appropriate service) to better enable the NHS to help them.

People who are eligible for the flu vaccine this year include:

  • adults aged 65 and over
  • adults aged 18 to 64 with a long-term health condition
  • children aged two to three at their GP practice
  • school children in reception, and years one to five.
  • pregnant women
  • health and social care workers
  • carers
  • morbidly obese people.

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