By Rachel Kayani
Three new vaccination programmes for flu, shingles and diarrhoea have been announced recently.
From September 2013 a nasal flu vaccine will be offered to all children aged two (around 650,000 in total) as part of a comprehensive vaccine programme to limit the spread of outbreaks.
While flu is rarely fatal in children, they are often the biggest transmitters of flu viruses, which can kill around 4000 people each year and places huge strain on NHS resources.
As a result the Government plans to introduce a flu vaccination programme for children. The UK is thought to be the first country in the world to offer free flu immunisation to all children. Like all other vaccines here it will not be compulsory.
Initially, all children aged two will be offered the vaccine from September 2013, the vaccine programme will then be rolled out to all primary and pre-school children next year.
Secondary school pupils are expected to be offered the vaccine from 2015. Nine million children will be eligible for the nasal flu vaccine and the price tag could be more than £100m a year.
A new shingles vaccine will also become available from this September for people aged over 70. Health experts have been calling for a vaccination programme against shingles in this age group for a number of years now.
Shingles happens when an old chickenpox infection is reactivated. Following infection with the chicken pox virus, which usually occurs in childhood, the virus can remain inactive in the nervous system for decades, the body’s immune system keeping it in check. However, later in life it can flare up again when the body’s immune system is weakened, such as in old age, this time it presents as shingles.
Shingles is characterised by a rash that appears on the upper body and is very painful. In some cases it can leave permanent nerve twinges, aches, stabbing, burning – any sensation that a nerve can make can be left behind.
Health officials say that the programme will prevent nearly 40% of the 30,000 shingles cases seen every year in older people. Initially the programme will target 70, 78 and 79-year-olds in the first instance and should prevent tens of thousands of cases a year. It is estimated that, in England alone, around 800,000 people will be eligible to receive it in the first year.
The Department of Health said the vaccination programme would cost about £25m a year in England but would save the NHS about £20m a year in fewer hospital stays, doctors’ appointments and prescriptions.
A third vaccine is to be introduced in July as part of the new programme, this will be aimed at all babies aged between two and four months against the rotavirus, a highly infectious diarrhoea and vomiting bug. The vaccine will be offered as a two-dose oral vaccine.
Rotavirus is a highly infectious bug that causes around 140,000 diarrhoea cases a year in under-fives. It is estimated that the vaccine could halve the number of vomiting and diarrhoea cases caused by rotavirus, resulting in 70% fewer hospital stays.
The current arrangement for protecting people against Meningitis C will also be updated. A new teenage booster jab given at age 12-13 will replace the booster that is currently given at four months old – as evidence shows the four-month booster is no longer required. The teenage booster jab will be offered in the 2013/14 academic year.
Director of Immunisation, Professor David Salisbury, said: “We already have a world class vaccination programme in place, which saves millions of lives each year, so I’m pleased that we will be able to protect even more people against disease starting later this year.
“By offering new vaccines to two groups at the opposite end of the age scale, we can protect our most vulnerable against potentially harmful diseases. And the introduction of a teenage booster for Meningitis C will improve the protection given to young people.”
The decisions to introduce the new vaccination programmes and updates to existing programmes were made after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation – the Government’s independent vaccine experts – studied all the available evidence and advised that these changes are made to protect more people against disease.