Sixty seconds on: flu vaccination

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 22 October 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h5544
  1. Nigel Hawkes, freelance journalist, London

Flu? What’s new?

Not a lot. The UK programmes are under way with no major hiccups. But there may be some consumer resistance this year.

Why’s that?

Last year’s vaccine was reported back in February to have been only 3% effective. Sharp eyed pensioners and parents won’t have missed that and will wonder whether it’s worth turning up.

Can’t say I blame them. Is it?

Yes. Public Health England, which published the 3% figure, has revised it upwards to 34%, which is timely. The reason, it says, is that a shift in dominant strains late in the year meant that the vaccine’s effectiveness increased as the flu season progressed. Generally effectiveness runs at about 50%.

So are people turning up?

Yes, but possibly a bit more slowly than last year. By 11 October 32.8 % of over 65s had been vaccinated, against 33.8% at the same point last year. Just over 1% of children aged 2-4 years had been vaccinated, against 3.8% last year. It’s too early to reach any conclusions.

Is the vaccine a good match?

In Australia, where the flu season is over, the peak rate of flu-like infections was similar to 2012 and 2014, and the vaccine was a good match to the circulating strains. If that’s any guide, we may see a better vaccine performance this year in the northern hemisphere.

Any changes to the programme?

The main change is including children in the first two years of school, along with the groups targeted in previous years.

What could possibly go wrong?

Few activities rely on so many different actors remembering their lines, including the World Health Organization, the vaccine producers, the GPs and nurses, pharmacists, schools, the Department of Health, NHS England, and Public Health England. Chances are the prompters will be needed before the curtain falls.


Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h5544

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