A NEW "adjuvanted" flu vaccine will be available in England this winter for those aged 65 and over and other at-risk groups.
Public Health England (PHE) says this more effective flu vaccine could reduce GP consultations by 30,000, hospitalisations by over 2,000 and prevent over 700 hospital deaths from flu.
Development has been directed at improving the body’s immune response to the vaccine, which is a particular problem in older adults with naturally weaker immune systems. Older adults are also more likely to suffer complications from flu.
The broader flu vaccination programme will also be improved by offering all eligible adults under 65, including pregnant women and those with long-term health conditions, the 'quadrivalent' vaccine in injected form. This protects against a total of four strains of flu: two strains of flu A and two strains of flu B.
Professor Paul Cosford, Medical Director at PHE, said: "Flu is potentially a very serious illness, and we know adults over 65 are more likely to catch and have complications from flu so have the most to gain from an improved vaccine.
"The vaccination programme will also be improved by extending the nasal spray vaccine to primary school children in year 5 (650,000 extra children), meaning the vaccine will be offered to children in years reception, 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. The programme will eventually roll out to all primary school children.
"When this happens, evidence suggests that an additional 63,000 GP consultations could be prevented each year. Due to having typically poorer hand hygiene than adults, children tend to be ‘super-spreaders’ of flu, so protecting them is crucial for protecting the rest of the population."
Professor Jane Cummings, Chief Nurse for England, said: "Faced with the worst flu season in a decade, NHS staff last winter did a remarkable job providing care for patients.
"This year, the public will be better protected from flu than ever before, with at-risk groups being offered the most effective vaccine available and every member of NHS staff expected to get their jab.
"The flu vaccine will be available from early October. PHE’s annual flu marketing campaign will launch on 8 October (to tie in with vaccine availability) and will target at-risk audiences including pregnant women, parents of children aged 2 to 3 and adults with long-term conditions."
Patients aged 65 and over in Wales will also be offered the new vaccine, but only those aged 75 and over will receive it in Scotland, with people aged between 65 and 74 continuing to be offered the standard vaccination - this apparently due to supply problems.