Health chiefs have admitted the current flu jab is ineffective for over-75s and ordered doctors to switch to a new version next winter.
NHS England has written to all GPs warning that the vaccine has ‘showed no significant effectiveness in this group over recent seasons’.
From next autumn, family doctors should instead adopt an injection used by other European countries for the last 20 years, but which will not be available in Britain until the 2018-19 flu season.
Until then the elderly will have to make do with the current vaccine – and experts last night stressed that they should carry on receiving it as it is the best defence available. Some 70 per cent of pensioners, who are eligible for the jab on the NHS, have already had the current vaccine so far this winter.
NHS England has written to all GPs warning that the vaccine has ‘showed no significant effectiveness in this group over recent seasons’ (stock image)
The new jab, called Fluad, is particularly effective against a strain which is especially dangerous to the elderly called H3N2, also known as Aussie flu.
Trials have shown the £9.79 vaccine triggers a 61 per cent bigger immune response to this strain in over-65s than other vaccines.
It is also more effective against the other common strain, H1N1, with a 40 per cent bigger immune response.
Fluad has been available in Europe since August 1997, but only received a UK licence in August after British regulators retested its safety.
In October the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises the Government, recommended it replace the existing vaccine for the elderly. The minutes of its meeting said of Fluad: ‘In a study undertaken in an elderly population … [it] showed a highly significant effectiveness and relative effectiveness compared with [the current vaccine] which showed no effectiveness.’
The new jab, called Fluad, is particularly effective against a strain which is especially dangerous to the elderly called H3N2, also known as Aussie flu (stock image)
Deaths jumped 40 per cent last winter, official figures show, which experts say is at least partly because the vaccine failed to protect older people.
Some 34,300 more people died between December and March – mainly the elderly – according to the Office for National Statistics.
In a letter to all GPs informing them of the change, NHS England said the over-65s would get the new jab if sufficient stocks are available but the priority will be for over-75s. The letter, dated December 22, said: ‘The JCVI has accordingly advised that the use of [Fluad] should be a priority for those aged 75 years and over, given that the [current vaccine] has showed no significant effectiveness in this group over recent seasons.’
However, officials stressed that while the existing vaccine has not been effective in recent years, it may yet prove to work this winter because strains mutate.
Deaths jumped 40 per cent last winter, official figures show. Some 34,300 more people died between December and March
Dr Richard Pebody, acting head of the respiratory diseases department at Public Health England, said: ‘The current flu vaccine is still the best defence we have against the virus. We therefore encourage all those who are eligible to take up the offer of the vaccine.’
An NHS England spokesman said: ‘The vaccine was not available for doctors to use it this winter, but from next year this vaccine will give even better protection to older people.’