A pilot scheme launched by Public Health England (PHE) has been extended for another year, aiming to immunise more than 700,000 children with the flu vaccine.
Vaccinations began in 2013/14 and were intially offered to primary school children across the country. The scheme has now been extended for people between the ages 11 and 13 years (year 7 and 8) and will administered nasally as a spray.
In addition to preventing young children getting the flu, it also reduces the spread of flu and provides protection to vulnerable individuals who are at risk of becoming seriously ill such as younger siblings, grandparents, pregnant women and those with pre-existing conditions.
Director for health protection and medical director at PHE, Dr Paul Cosford said: “The pilots are an important addition to the national programme and are being carefully planned for the second year running. They are helping us to understand the best way to implement the programme nationally, ensuring that we can set up a successful and sustainable programme, vaccinating children and young people to protect them and the wider population.”
Cosford also believes that the programme can help to alleviate strain on GP and hospital services as “100s of 1000s people may see their GP and 10s of 1000s may be hospitalised” as a result of the flu virus.
The Department of Health have decided to extend the national flu programme to children from the ages of 2 to less than 17 years, after advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to continue.
The extension is eventually being phased in and the current pilots are being used to determine the most efficient and effective way to administer the inoculation, without increasing pressure on other services.
PHE’s head of immunisation, Dr Mary Ramsay commented on the success of the pilots so far.
She said: “Last year there was an overall uptake of 52.5% in school-age children and early findings from the pilots suggest a likely impact of vaccinating on levels of flu circulating more widely.
“The high uptake levels achieved in most pilot areas last year using school-based delivery demonstrate the feasibility of achieving high coverage levels and this is encouraging as we approach the second year of the pilots. However, it is important that we continue this on-going close monitoring of the programme.”
Children aged 2, 3 and 4 will also be offered the nasal spray, along with the existing flu programme which gives immunity to anyone in an at risk group, pregnant women and people aged 65 or over.
Arrangements to ensure the vaccines are offered throughout autumn are currently underway by local NHS screening and immunization teams
An NHS England spokesperson said: “NHS England will continue to commission and ensure the delivery of the national flu programme across England. The fact that it’s been extended to children and young people via the Healthy Schools Programme is a positive, benefitting both children and their families.”