The Government’s next NHS flu immunisation campaign will no longer include free flu vaccines for 50-64-year-olds. At the same time, the Government is continuing to wind down its monkeypox vaccine programme, despite a surge in cases. A leading health testing expert says these false economies could lead to significant future strains on the NHS.
The Government’s decision to axe free flu jabs for 50-64-year-olds has been called a false economy by a leading health testing expert. The free jab was introduced in 2020 to ease the burden on the NHS during Covid. It means around 12 million Brits will no longer qualify for a jab. The decision to wind down targeted mpox (monkeypox) vaccinations this summer, despite a recent increase in cases, has also been criticised as short-sighted.
Leading testing expert, Dr Avinash Hari Narayanan (MBChB), Clinical Lead at London Medical Laboratory, says: ‘The axing of these two important vaccination campaigns is a myopic decision by the Government, which could go on to have severe consequences. NHS England has been clear on the benefits of free flu jabs, saying: “Flu immunization is one of the most effective interventions we can provide to reduce harm from flu and pressures on health and social care services during the winter.” It also acknowledged: “By preventing flu infection through vaccination, secondary bacterial infections such as pneumonia are prevented. This reduces the need for antibiotics and helps prevent antibiotic resistance.”
‘Similarly, the Government has been precipitous in ending its targeted mpox vaccinations campaign. The Government claimed in March that a sustained reduction in case numbers meant a targeted vaccine programme would no longer be needed and would be wound down in the summer. However, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) says that there have been a further 10 cases of mpox diagnosed in the UK since 4 May, bringing the total number of new cases this year to 20, representing a growing bio reservoir for further infections.
‘The obvious conclusion is that the Government is cutting costs by axing free vaccines for groups of potentially at-risk people. This emphasis on money-saving is even referred to in the latest statement of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI). Discussing flu vaccines, it stated in November: “JCVI is of the view that whilst there would be a clear health benefit in vaccinating low risk 50-64 year olds, it is uncertain whether this would be cost effective. As in recent years, JCVI supports vaccination in this group in principle if funding is available but remains concerned that it might not meet strict cost-effectiveness requirements and could divert from more cost-effective interventions.” In other words, despite “clear health benefits”, it’s the Government’s “strict cost-effectiveness requirements” that are taking precedence.
‘This begs the question: should short-term savings take precedence over the long-term problems caused by increased cases of flu and potential secondary pneumonia? Any upturn in flu cases this winter could result in further demands on the already overstretched NHS. Vaccination campaigns form a significant shield against health services becoming overwhelmed. Ending free vaccine provision for 50-64-year-olds who are not in a clinical high-risk group, because the money might be better spent elsewhere, may be well-intentioned but could result in an overall negative outcome.
‘Likewise, the dangers of falling vaccination levels are becoming all-too clear when it comes to mpox. While mpox infection is mild for many, it can cause severe symptoms for some. Half of the cases in the UK are in unvaccinated individuals and two cases only received one dose of the mpox jab. The UKHSA says: “Vaccination has played a crucial role in protecting people and reducing case numbers.” However, while the uptake of first doses has been strong, only around a third of those who have received their first dose have had their second dose so far. Clearly, now is the wrong time to wind down targeted vaccinations for this transmissible disease. UKHSA data shows that one dose of the vaccine offers 78% protection against the virus and the second dose aims to give crucial long-term protection. The exact impact of this decision remains to be seen, but without prevention measures, mpox will continue to be a source of concern.
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