GP practices have been advised by NHS England to order a separate adjuvanted vaccine, Fluad, to give to over-75s in the 2018/19 flu season.
A letter from NHS England’s Public Health Commissioning Team has instructed practices to order a separate flu vaccine for patients who are over 75 years of age, after Public Health England (PHE) announced in September that last year’s vaccine was not ‘significantly effective’ in older patients.
However, the directive has been met with concern by some practices over the potential logistical and financial issues with ordering two separate vaccines.
NHS England’s letter said: ‘The adjuvanted trivalent flu vaccine is currently considered to be the only licensed cost-effective option for this group.’
The Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations recommended the switch to an adjuvanted vaccine in over-65s last year, but recommended any change should start with those over 75.
It said in its November meeting minutes: ‘The committee agreed that if a change in approach were to be considered, switching vaccination of the 75 years and upwards age group to adjuvanted vaccine would be the first priority, given the un-adjuvanted inactivated vaccine showed no significant effectiveness in this group.’
But Dr Kieran Sharrock, medical director of Lincolnshire LMC, said that NHS England’s advice had come ‘too late’ for many practices.
He said: ‘Many practices have ordered early to ensure that they get the supply that they need and have therefore ordered similar quantities to the last flu season.
‘We are unsure if they will be able to amend their orders, and whether they will be financially disadvantaged due to this advice coming after the deadline for orders.’
But Dr George Kassianos, GP and RCGP immunisation lead, said practices should follow NHS England’s advice.
He said: ‘We know from the PHE publications that last year, the effectiveness of the conventional influenza vaccines in the over-65s was not apparent. Over-75s fared particularly badly to the point that the JCVI called the effectiveness of the conventional vaccine in the elderly “disappointing”.
‘It makes clinical sense to use the adjuvanted vaccine in the elderly for next influenza season and that is what NHS England is urging practices to consider.’
The news comes as the UK is in the grip of the current flu season, with rates of primary care consultations and hospitalisations increasing week by week.
In Scotland, early testing showed just over half of the circulating strains were the same as those for which this season’s vaccine offers protection.
However, England data on hospitalisations suggested the dreaded ‘Aussie flu’ H3N2 was on the rise – with 112 hospitalisations in 19 hospitals last week, compared to five across 12 trusts the week before – for which there was no vaccine made available to patients.