An enhanced flu vaccine will be made available this winter to vulnerable people to reduce winter pressure in hospitals and prevent deaths.
According the Public Health England (PHE), the jab could reduce GP consultations by 30 000, hospitalisations by over 2000 and prevent approximately 700 hospital deaths in England.
‘Flu is potentially a very serious illness, and 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,’ said Paul Cosford, PHE medical director.
‘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.’
‘Further protection will be gained by offering flu vaccine to more children this year and giving a vaccine that provides protection against 4 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 new vaccine is ‘adjuvanted’ therefore it will increase the jab’s effectiveness by improving the body’s immune system – which is particularly important for elderly people whose systems naturally weaken over time.
The jab protects against four strains of flu: two strains of flu A and two from flu B. The vaccination programme will be extended to offer all eligible adults under 65 the jab, such as pregnant women and those with chronic health conditions, who will still receive the ‘quadrivalent’ vaccine.
‘Faced with the worst flu season in a decade, NHS staff last winter did a remarkable job providing care for patients,’ said Jane Cummings, England’s chief nursing officer.
‘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 programme is planned to be extended to include all primary school children in year 5 (around 650 000 extra children) who will receive the vaccine as a nasal spray. The scheme will eventually be offered to all primary school children.
Children are considered ‘super-spreaders’ of flu given their poorer hand hygiene, therefore vaccinating them will protect the wider population.
The new vaccine will be available from October and eligible adults are urged to get theirs free from their local GP surgery or pharmacy.