New flu vaccine for children uses a syringe and offers better protection
BRISTOL children are among the first in the country to receive a new flu vaccine which does not involve the use of needles.
The vaccine – which is delivered from a syringe and sprayed up the nose – is expected to be made available to all school children from the autumn of 2014.
But some youngsters in Bristol nurseries are now being offered the vaccine, which was licensed for use in two to 17-year-olds in the UK last year. It is known to protect children against seasonal flu better than injected vaccines and Professor Adam Finn, of Bristol University and the children's hospital, says this is because the vaccine is made up of live but weakened flu strains.
"The way this varies from old-fashioned vaccines is that it contains live strains of flu virus – mild ones that don't make you ill, but some children do get a slightly blocked nose for a day or two," he said.
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Prof Finn said that the use of live strains of flu in the vaccine was likely to be the reason it is more effective because of the way it triggered the immune response within the body.
"We know that results in better protection against flu in a child that has had the vaccine.
"What we are also interested in is whether it reduces transmission of flu, as we think that is going to be the case as well.
"From the medical point of view this vaccine is twice as effective at preventing flu in young children, which is very important if it is going to have an impact.
"This is a positive development, and doesn't carry any risk as far as we are aware. It has been used in millions of children in the States for ten years now."
Youngsters at Bristol University day nursery were given the flu vaccine yesterday.
"The main thing that people will notice is that the vaccine is given as a spray in the nose rather than an injection in the arm or leg, which children find distressing," Prof Finn said.
"A spray in the nose is not painful, it is perhaps a bizarre feeling for them but it does not distress them."
It is hoped that as well as protecting children the immunisation of healthy youngsters will also minimise the spread of flu to adults.
"A lot of children get flu, some end up in hospital while most just have a bad illness, which is disruptive for the lives of their families as when children are too ill to attend nursery one of their parents has to take time off work," Prof Finn said.
He said that flu epidemics usually start after Christmas and last for eight to 12 weeks but it is too early to tell how bad seasonal flu will be this year.
"Since last year's epidemic was quite small, on average you would expect this year's to be bigger," Prof Finn said.
Currently children with under- lying medical conditions such as asthma and diabetes receive a flu jab but it was announced in July that all children aged two to 17 will be offered the nasal vaccine possibly within two years.
A Bristol University team are working on a research programme around the new vaccine so about 200 youngsters in the city will receive the vaccine this year.