Flu Jab: Is it useless for older people?

Figures published in the British Medical Journal indicates the £160million winter public health campaign may have been a waste of money for those over 65, its principal target.

Now the government’s Joint Council on Vaccination and Immunisation is discussing plans to abandon the jab for pensioners and replace it with something it hopes will be more effective.

The present vaccine has components altered each year to bring about immunity to the three strains that are most likely to be circulating.

Now experts are considering introducing a boosted jab with more active ingredients. 

This follows Public Health England figures, revealed in a recent BMJ paper, which show having the vaccine did not reduce the chance pensioners developing the illness at all last year.

In 2015/16 the same government data source showed the vaccine was more effective, reducing the risk of an elderly person having the virus by 29 per cent.

But the year before – 2014/15 – their risk was reduced by just three per cent.Minutes of the last meeting of the joint council suggested a new vaccine would be considered for next year concluding in those aged 18-64 years, vaccine effectiveness was “modest for all strains”, and those aged 65 years and over “effectiveness was even lower.”

Professor Robert Dingwall, an expert in influenza and social sciences at Nottingham Trent University who has examined the latest figures, said: “We need to take this seriously and ask some critical questions about what is going on here. 

“The evidence vaccine prevents older people getting influenza is not good enough and the vaccination programme may be wasting valuable NHS money."

And Andrew Easton, a professor of virology at Warwick, said: “A judgement should be made about replacing this vaccine in the current climate of limited NHS budget.”

Dr Richard Peabody head of respiratory viruses and influenza Public Health England, said the recommendation remained that people over 65 have the current flu jab. 

He said it did provide important protection.

However he said: “The vaccine didn’t work as well as we’d hoped last year, but we know season on season the effectiveness of the vaccine varies.

There is currently work going on to understand what happened and to use better vaccines but the vaccination programme is important in that it will provide some protection and we recommend the over 65’s get your jab.”

The news comes as the NHS braces for a major flu outbreak amid fears of a virulent strain brought in from Australia.

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