A more effective flu vaccine – available this winter for those aged 65 and over, which could prevent deaths and reduce the burden on the NHS – enhanced vaccination [programme could reduce GP appointments, Public Health England has announced
Public Health England (PHE) has announced a more effective flu vaccine for those aged 65 has the potential to prevent deaths and significantly reduce the burden on the NHS this winter.
Typically, older adults’ bodies do not respond as well to the flu vaccine due to their naturally weaker immune systems, however, this ‘adjuvanted’ vaccine boosts effectiveness by improving the body’s immune response to the vaccine. Especially important given the complications from flu that older adults are susceptible to.
The vaccine, available for the first time this year in the UK for those aged 65 and over, should alleviate some of the health burden that flu season places on the population and the NHS by;
- reduce GP consultations by 30,000;
- reduce hospitalisations by over 2,000;
- prevent over 700 hospital deaths from flu in England.
The flu vaccination programme
The broader flu vaccination programme is also set for improvement by offering all eligible adults under 65, including pregnant women and those with long-term health conditions, the ‘quadrivalent’ vaccine in injected form, which will protect against a total of four strains of flu: two strains of flu A and two strains of flu B.
The nasal spray vaccine will also be extended to primary school children in year 5 (650,000 extra children), meaning the vaccine will be offered to children in years reception, 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 – the ambition is to eventually roll out the programme to all primary school children. This, the evidence suggests could save an additional 63,000 GP consultations each year.
The flu vaccine will be available from early October.
PHE’s annual flu marketing campaign will launch on October 8 and will target at-risk audiences including pregnant women, parents of children aged two to three and adults with long-term conditions.
The campaign will be one of the first to roll out under the newly launched ‘Help Us Help You’ brand. Eligible adults are encouraged to get their free vaccine from their local general practice or pharmacy before the end of November to protect themselves and their families before flu reaches its seasonal peak. It is the single best way to protect against a potentially very serious illness.
As well as getting the vaccine, practising good hand hygiene by catching coughs and sneezes in a tissue, throwing it away and washing your hands after can help limit its spread – catch it, bin it, kill it.
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 2 to 3 at their GP practice
- school children in years reception, 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5
- pregnant women
- health and social care workers
- morbidly obese people
- Summary of data to support the choice of influenza vaccination for adults in primary care is available online.
- Adults with chronic conditions need the flu vaccine because people with respiratory diseases like COPD, emphysema or asthma are seven times more likely to die if they catch flu, and people with cardiovascular problems like chronic heart disease or angina, or have had a stroke, are 11 times more likely to die. The risk is far worse for those with chronic liver disease, who are 48 times more likely to die if they get flu. (Source: Green Book chapter 19)
- Flu is a viral infection that is spread through coughs and sneezes. Most people recover with rest in a week, but people with chronic conditions or who are over 65 should call NHS 111. Doctors may prescribe antivirals in some cases which can help speed up recovery but is not a cure.
- There is no cure for flu. Getting the vaccine if you are eligible and practising good hand hygiene is the best way to prevent yourself from getting flu.
- The flu vaccine typically becomes available in early October. The vaccine is offered through local GPs and pharmacies.
- We cannot predict with certainty which strains will circulate in the UK this winter. The WHO makes recommendations for the composition of the northern hemisphere flu vaccine every year; and this is published six months in advance to allow for vaccine production times.
- The adjuvanted aTIV vaccine which PHE and the NHS are recommending this year for people aged 65 and over was licenced for use in this age group in September 2017. It has previously been used in other countries.