North Middlesex University Hospital (North Mid) in Edmonton is offering the most vulnerable premature babies who are aged six months and over the flu jab.
During the height of the pandemic, the local hospital set out to establish whether parents would consent to their babies having their routine palivizumab vaccine and the flu jab simultaneously. Offering the flu jab at the same time meant that parents did not have to make an additional visit to the GP or hospital. Using this approach at North Mid, has dramatically increased the number of premature babies having the flu jab from 7% to 69%, compared to the previous year.
Due to the impact of the flu, children under the age of two years or those suffering from underlying health conditions are at higher risk of requiring paediatric intensive care. However, administering flu vaccinations has shown to reduce admissions amongst this age group.
By simply offering the jab and gaining consent, this new approach (opportunistic immunisation) can easily be replicated to other clinical services, particularly those targeting high risk children. In addition to this, with greater uptake, the UK is likely to reduce the burden of the disease for those at high risk.
Prior to this initiative, there were many reasons for limited uptake in vaccinations. This included general vaccine hesitancy as well as a heightened parental concern for babies having two vaccines at once however there is no evidence to support that it places babies at risk. There was also less of concern about the flu due to more children being at home during the pandemic.
Victoria Jones, Consultant Paediatrician at North Middlesex University NHS Hospital, said: “Providing parents with the option to reduce the number of visits they need to make to protect their children against infection especially during the coronavirus pandemic, has supported the uptake of the influenza vaccine.
“A respiratory infection amongst premature babies can be critical, therefore using an opportunistic immunisation approach can provide those vulnerable extra protection and often avoid a hospital admission. Based on the current evidence and uptake from parents, this approach can have huge benefits to premature babies and help them stay healthy.”
The national childhood flu immunisation programme was introduced in 2013 to not only decrease the rate of childhood flu but also reduce the impact it would have on the rest of the population.