Thursday, 26 July 2012

Community health at its best.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination have recommended that all children aged between 2 and 17 years are to be offered free flu vaccines. It is estimated that if 30% parents opt to vaccinate their children via a nasal spray, this will save 2,000 lives a year and avoid 11,000 hospitalisations.

Although flu tends to be a nuisance for the young, it is rarely fatal. However ‘coughs and sneezes spread diseases’ and children are not known for efficient infection control. As carriers of a nasty flu bug, they can infect the more vulnerable in society and flu can be a killer for the elderly, diabetics, pregnant women and other at-risk sections of the community, young and old, such as asthmatics.

The vaccine is administered as a painless nasal spray, so in theory should cause little or no discomfort to the recipient. So it’s a no brainer – yes? As with any health initiative there are pros and cons. The pro’s as listed above are real and significant. The cons would include cost - £100 million to vaccinate the 9 million eligible children each year. This must surely be covered by the £millions saved by reduced flu-related hospital admissions and death. A more challenging issue would be the manpower to administer such a radical programme – hospital nurses in many schools are either non-existent or already fully stretched. This is a good opportunity to review the entire vaccination programme in the UK with a possible benefit of releasing additional GP time by training up more ‘vaccination professionals’ such as nurses and paramedics. The strongest ‘anti’ vote will be from parents who feel that their children are overloaded with preventative measures and their fears for the safety of some vaccines – the hoo hah over the MMR and HPV vaccine is testament to this. As this is an annual vaccine, the decision may be even tougher.

So why should a parent allow their child to be vaccinated against flu each year? The same reason that I believe they should allow their children to be vaccinated against other diseases and health threats such as Rubella, Mumps, TB and the HPV virus. Not just for their child’s sake – but for the common good.

Herd immunity is a highly positive phenomenon. By vaccinating most individuals, others, some not even yet born, automatically benefit from reduced exposure to a disease. The HPV vaccine is an excellent example of this. Since its introduction in 2008, 80% of eligible girls have been protected against the virus, which is directly linked to cervical cancer. If ALL eligible girls in the UK were vaccinated it is highly likely that cervical cancer in the UK could virtually be eradicated. Fantastic. Except that some schools are refusing to offer the vaccine based on ‘Christian principles’.

I would like to live in a world where any ‘principle’ of behaviour includes consideration not for just self but the wider community. I know that annual flu vaccines of children won’t eradicate this potentially major cause of death and serious illness, but if it can save at least 2,000 lives each year surely this is a worthy aim?

These are just the type of initiatives we need to see more of to secure better health levels and reduced healthcare costs for the next generation. Targeted vaccination programmes are not just about the individual, they impact the community in which they live. This isn’t about a ‘nanny state’ – it’s about collective responsibility.


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