Pneumococcal jab for elderly may be dropped

Healthy over-65s may be dropped from the pneumococcal vaccination programme next year, the DoH has revealed.

Vaccination schedule for elderly may not include pneumococcal jab (Photograph: SPL)
Vaccination schedule for elderly may not include pneumococcal jab (Photograph: SPL)

Following growing evidence that immunising this group is having no impact on disease levels, an expert committee is to decide whether the programme should continue.

At present, around 360,000 over-65s are vaccinated every year against pneumococcal disease at a cost of £6.5 million.

A DoH spokeswoman said the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) pneumococcal subcommittee will meet in December to discuss the issue.

The JCVI will then consider at its meeting in February 2011 whether to axe the programme.

The subcommittee will look at whether vaccination of this group should cease or whether the polysaccharide vaccine currently used should be replaced with a conjugate vaccine, such as that used for children.

Pneumococcal vaccination of the elderly began in 2003. Health Protection Agency (HPA) data show that the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine is having little population benefit in over-65s and that it only protects individuals for one year.

Dr Pauline Kaye of the HPA's centre for infections told the agency's conference last month: 'It is up to the DoH as to whether it abandons the vaccination programme in the elderly.

'If it was to abandon the vaccination programme in the elderly that would be admitting it hadn't worked.'

The JCVI subcommittee will consider the logistics of stopping the programme. It will look at whether there is a benefit in focusing only on over-65s in at-risk groups.

The subcommittee will also consider whether it is easier to continue the programme if it is likely to be restarted with a conjugate vaccine.

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