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Extend the ‘flu jab to the over 50s to support healthy ageing, argues leading think tank

The International Longevity Centre- UK (ILC-UK) has today urged the Government to take a new life course approach to adult immunisation in the UK starting with extending the ‘flu jab to all over 50s.

In a new report, ILC-UK argues that whilst our approach to childhood immunisation is world leading, we are undermining the potential for healthy ageing by paying insufficient attention to adults in our immunisation strategies.

ILC-UK argues a life course approach to immunisation, which adequately considers the need and potential benefit of adult immunisation, could contribute to better health outcomes for older people.

The report, which was prompted by the vaccine supply and demand issues during the 2010/11 ‘flu season, argues that the Government should make an explicit commitment to a life course vaccination including the introduction of age-group recommendations alongside traditional “risk group” recommendations. ILC-UK argues that the wider public sees immunisation primarily as a childhood phenomenon, which may partially explain less than optimal take-up for some adult vaccinations.

ILC-UK state that media coverage of the mismatch between supply and demand created a wider, and often inaccurate, sense of a problem – for example by creating a disproportionate level of concern about risk to children under 5 years old. The ILC-UK report notes that contrary to the impression given by the media, deaths were three times higher in the 45-64 age group than in the under 5 age group, and those with a risk factor for ‘flu were 20 times more likely to die than the general population.

The report urges the Westminster Government to learn from the best; take-up of the ‘flu jab is consistently higher in Scotland than in England, for example 66% of pregnant women were vaccinated against ‘flu as compared to only 37% in England.

ILC-UK argues that the Westminster Government should:

  • Explicitly promote the concept of life course vaccination;
  • Use age group as well as risk group based recommendations, starting with extending access to NHS funded influenza vaccination to all over 50s.
  • Introduce a vaccination record card (paper and/or electronic) which could be carried throughout a lifetime, and which could be linked to employer schemes encouraging vaccination.
  • Widen access to vaccination through increasing the range of vaccination settings – in particular the potential of a greater role for community pharmacies,
  • Trial workplace vaccination schemes for the over 50s.

Rebecca Taylor, Senior Researcher at ILC-UK said:

“There is plenty of scope to improve adult immunisation and doing so has the potential to contribute to healthy ageing including helping older workers to stay fit for longer”

David Sinclair, Head of Policy and Research added:

“While policy makers and immunisation experts consider that immunisation is life course, the general public does not; seeing vaccination as ‘for children’. An improved and invigorated strategy for adult immunisation with an explicit commitment to life course vaccination could help change attitudes and behaviours. Efforts must also be made to learn from the best. Rates of flu vaccination are better in some parts of the country than others, and some GP practices achieve vaccination rates at close to 100%.”

Notes for the Editor:

1. For a copy of the report on adult immunisation or any questions, please contact Rebecca Taylor on rebeccataylor@ilcuk.org.uk or 020 7340 0440/07791 361 960.

2. The International Longevity Centre – UK is an independent, non-partisan think-tank dedicated to addressing issues of longevity, ageing and demographic change. We develop ideas, undertake research and create a forum for action and debate.

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