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Ireland ‘must give more children (seasonal) flu jab to save lives’

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  • Ireland ‘must give more children (seasonal) flu jab to save lives’


    May 23, 2009
    Ireland ‘must give more children flu jab to save lives’
    Professor Thomas Szucs suggests that vaccinating children would benefit the at-risk sector of the population

    Sarah McInerney

    An international expert has warned that Irish children are being put at serious risk after conducting new research showing Ireland has the lowest child influenza vaccination rate of 11 European countries.

    Thomas Szucs, professor and co-chairman of the European Centre of Pharmaceutical Medicine at the University of Basel in Switzerland, said it was vital that Ireland increase the number of children getting the vaccine because clinical data shows children are at high risk of developing serious complications or even dying from the disease.

    His study into vaccination coverage rates in 11 EU countries, published in the Journal of Infection, found that just 4.9% of Irish children receive the flu vaccine, compared with 20% in Germany.

    “I think the data speaks for itself,” he said. “If you look at the mortality data for young children who contract influenza, it is high. There is no doubt that we should be vaccinating children, but in a number of European countries there continues to be a huge gap between what we know we should be doing and what is actually being done.”

    The report points out that children are a population “extremely susceptible to develop severe complications” and that infants and young children are especially vulnerable to the disease.

    The Irish health authorities have not officially recommended that all children be vaccinated, which would partly explain the low rate of vaccination here. Szucs said it was extremely important that Ireland introduce such a recommendation.

    “Currently the flu vaccine is recommended for all children in the United States, and clinical data has proven this to be extremely effective,” he said. “There are studies showing the vaccine helps prevent children from infecting each other in playgroups, for example.”

    One study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control in the US, found that of 127 children vaccinated for the flu, there was a 70% reduction in school days missed compared with an unvaccinated group. Of 149 vaccinated infants studied, 42% developed less respiratory illness than an unvaccinated control group.

    Szucs said the vaccination of children would also eliminate the risk of young children passing the flu to their grand-parents, because people over 65 are regarded as an at-risk sector of the population.

    Suzanne Cotter, public health specialist for the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, said that it was possible a national recommendation to vaccinate children could be made here.

    “We, together with many European countries, have not yet made that step, but it is something that the National Immunisation Advisory Committee will be keeping an eye on,” she said.

    The report also found that households with higher incomes in Ireland had a lower vaccination rate than lower-income households here.
    This was in contrast to a number of the other countries surveyed. Ireland’s vaccination coverage of the 65-year-old at-risk population compared reasonably well with the other countries’, with over 60% of the target group having been vaccinated in the 2007/08 season. That compares with the highest rate of 70% in the UK.

    “We are performing well, but we haven’t yet reached the World Health Organisation target for 2010 of 75% coverage,” said Cotter. “There is definitely room for improvement. We will be rolling out targeted campaigns in autumn, advising people to go to their GP for the vaccine, which is free. I think a lot of people intend to get the vaccine but just never get around to it.”

    In the report, Ireland scored poorly when its intended rate of immunisation of the general population was compared with the actual number of people immunised. In 2007/2008, the study found that less than 20% of the general population was vaccinated, despite an intention to reach almost twice that number.