The annual CMO report for 2015, which focuses on the health of the ‘baby boomer generation’, shows that the widespread vaccination of school-aged children against flu also protects patients aged 50-70, significantly cutting their need to attend their GP practice.
Pilot studies found that within this age group, 17.4 per 100,000 people visited their GP with influenza-like illness in areas with no school-based vaccination, compared with 9.4 in areas with primary school only and 3.4 in areas with both primary and secondary – a fifth of the levels in areas with no vaccination.
The findings suggest that the school vaccination programme could prevent 2.27m GP consultations for flu-like symptoms among the 16.2m people aged 50-70 in the country during every flu season.
The CMO report says that vaccinating healthy school-age children resulted in ‘reductions in cumulative disease incidence in 50-70-year olds’.
‘This evidence supports further phased introduction of the national LAIV [live attenuated influenza vaccine] programme in children, and confirms the models that suggest that this policy is likely to be more cost-effective than vaccinating healthy adults,’ it added.
The CMO report comes as Public Health England (PHE) figures reveal that GPs have driven up flu vaccine uptake in most high-risk groups of patients this season.
However, the figures also show that the number of over-65s vaccinated dropped off slightly over the same period.
Some 20.3% of two-year-olds on GP lists were vaccinated against flu during these two months, up from 17.8% (2.5 percentage points) over the same period last year.
This was joined by a similar rise in three-year-olds, which rose to 21.5% from 18.7% (2.8 percentage points), and a smaller rise up to 17.1% from 15.4% (1.7 percentage points) in four-year-olds.
Across England, just over half (56%) of patients aged over 65 have received a flu jab from their GP practice, but this represents an over two percentage point drop from the 58.1% in 2015/16.
Rates among patients aged between six months and 65 who are at particular risk of flu – such as those with chronic respiratory disease or diabetes – also increased slightly from 32.8% to 33.3%, with a similar rise in pregnant women (31.8% to 32.4%).
The figures also reveal regional variation in uptake across CCG areas. In over 65s, this ranges from 43% in West London CCG and Hammersmith and Fulham CCG, to having two thirds (67%) of patients covered in Rushcliffe CCG.
In younger patients with chronic conditions, this ranged from24% in Hammersmith and Fulham CCG to 43% in Vale Royal CCG.
Speaking on the PHE figures, Dr Andrew Green, chairman of the GPC clinical and prescribing subcommittee, said: ‘The increase in flu uptake for children probably is a sign of the acceptability of this form of immunisation to children and their parents.
‘The figures for adults can vary from year to year, depending a little on national publicity as well as patients’ perceptions of the severity of flu in the preceding season. It is also unclear at this stage what the impact will be on the overall figures in the light of increasing activity from pharmacists.’