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'Ineffective' flu jab for elderly is 'better than nothing'

PHE: Flu jab is ineffective for the elderly as they have weaker immune systems
PHE: Flu jab is ineffective for the elderly as they have weaker immune systems

Elderly patients should still be given the flu vaccination, despite data suggesting it is ineffective among this group, London's pharmacy vaccination lead has said.

In a report – published last week (August 31) – on vaccine effectiveness during the 2016-17 season, Public Health England (PHE) said the jab had “no significant effectiveness” among the over-65 age group.

A PHE spokesperson told C+D this was because over 65’s have “weaker immune systems” and are “more frail”, making them “more susceptible to getting flu”.

Recovery “faster” with a vaccination

However, Rekha Shah, flu vaccination lead for London's local pharmaceutical committees (LPCs), said pharmacies should continue to vaccinate the elderly, because inoculated patients are "likely" to suffer "less virulent" flu and recovery will "probably [be] faster".

“As a pharmacist, I would recommend people get the jab,” Ms Shah told C+D. “Even if it gives minimal protection, it’s better than nothing.”

The jabs “have minimal risk, they're very easy to access, there's minimal discomfort, [and they’re] very cost-effective”, she continued.

According to PHE, vaccination uptake in elderly patients last season was 70.5%. Ms Shah said: “More and more people are coming forward to get their jabs earlier now, because we've made it so much easier for them."

Vaccine is still working

A PHE spokesperson told C+D the effectiveness of the flu jab for the elderly was still low last year and continues to be low this year".

However, they added it is "definitely still worth people continuing to get the vaccine, because it is still working".

Rosie Taylor, head of service development at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), told C+D yesterday (September 6) that the negotiator advises community pharmacists to continue to provide flu vaccinations to patients in all eligible groups.

It is “important” patients are vaccinated annually, as the vaccines “contain different strains from year to year”, Ms Taylor added.

Pharmacy “ready” for children’s flu jab

The PHE report showed an average of 65.8% vaccine effectiveness in patients aged 2-17 years. PHE said it is “important” this group receive the vaccine, to increase “herd immunity”.

Ms Shah stressed she has been lobbying for London pharmacies to offer the vaccine to this age group for “four and a half years”.

Though this is unlikely to happen soon, NHS England "might end up having to [commission it] eventually", Ms Shah added.

2 Comments
Question: 
Should pharmacies be able to offer children the flu vaccine?

Stephen Carville, Community pharmacist

Wow- after admitting vaccine  ineffective in this age group- you are still pushing as "better than nothing"- and also been lobbying for vaccine for children. I guess when your income derives from this scheme encourages  further expansion. What is this "less virulent" flu. A pharmacist was recently struck off for falsifying MUR data- but the harshest criticism from the committee was reserved for the waste of public funds in that matter. Could the above article be,on the surface at least, a case for such criticism also?

James Mac, Community pharmacist

Is there any evidence that the vaccine causes you to have a "less virulent" flu and also what does that even mean... I've seen shorter queues for big thunder mountain than the doctor's flu jab clinics. Like everything it's all about money I guess.

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