The NHS has announced plans to deliver ‘gold standard’ protection against flu next winter, in the form of a new immune-boosting vaccine.
In winter 2018/19, those aged 65 and over will be offered a newly-licensed vaccine which not only offers protection against three strains of flu, but can also boost their immune response.
The jab, dubbed ‘adjuvanted trivalent [three strain] vaccine’, is an enhanced form of the vaccine given to the over 65s this winter.
The NHS said use of more effective vaccines in the 2018/19 season is in the best interests of patients, particularly given the association of flu with increased mortality. Since the start of flu season this winter (beginning in week 40 of 2017) there have been 193 confirmed deaths in England, according to Public Health England (PHE).
The new immune-boosting jab was not available this flu season as it was only licensed for use in the UK in August 2017 and GPs had already placed and received orders for the other vaccines. However the NHS wants to ensure the most vulnerable people get the best available protection next season.
People aged 18-64 and classed as ‘at risk’ - such as pregnant women or people with asthma - will still receive the quadrivalent (four-strain) vaccine, which provides protection against two strains of influenza A and two strains of influenza B. Children, who are considered ‘super-spreaders’ and are generally more susceptible to influenza B, will continue to receive the nasal spray quadrivalent vaccine.
Influenza A is generally more serious than influenza B, according to PHE, although the latter can cause serious illness and mortality. Influenza A can be passed from animals to humans, while influenza B is exclusive to humans.
It is not yet known which specific strains next year’s flu jabs will protect against, this will be determined by scientists later in the year.
The NHS has urged GPs and pharmacists to get their flu jab orders in for the 2018/19 season to ensure the population gets the best vaccines available. Suppliers of the vaccine have confirmed there will be enough adjuvanted trivalent vaccine and quadrivalent influenza vaccine to meet demand.
Figures show over one and a half million more people got their free vaccination this year compared to last.
Dr Arvind Madan, GP and NHS England Director of Primary Care, said: “Flu can have serious health implications, particularly for the most vulnerable people, as well as having a significant impact on NHS services. The evidence is clear so the NHS is going further to advise gold standard protection is provided. Importantly, the public in eligible groups, can also play their part by getting their free vaccination again next year.”
Professor Paul Cosford, PHE’s medical director, said: “Vaccination is one of the best public health interventions we have available to us, saving thousands of lives every year. We already have one of the best flu vaccination programmes in the world and making these vaccines available next season should offer greater protection than ever before. We urge everyone eligible to take up the offer of flu vaccination.”