AstraZeneca has announced that its Fluenz, the market's first needle-free flu vaccine specifically for children, has now been launched throughout the UK in time for the 2012/13 flu season.
Fluenz (live attenuated influenza vaccine, LAIV) won European approval in February 2011 for the prophylaxis of influenza in children aged from 24 months to less than 18 years, but it has been on the US market - where it is sold under the tradename FluMist - since 2003.
Not only is the product the first influenza vaccine to be approved in Europe specifically for children, and the first needle-free flu jab on the market, but it has also shown superior protection to its injected rivals.
According to AstraZeneca, clinical trials involving more than 20,000 children showed a 54.9% cut in cases of influenza in children who received its nasally-administered jab compared with those who received the traditional influenza.
Other findings have shown a reduction in the incidence of culture confirmed influenza-like illness in participants aged two to seven years taking Fluenz by up to 93% compared with the placebo group.
The drugmaker notes that children in the UK children "have been disproportionately affected by flu compared with other age groups, with young children among those at high risk of severe influenza disease and influenza-related complications".
In addition, evidence shows that vaccinating children can protect both the individual but also interrupt virus transmission to those not immunised, thereby adding an extra safety net in terms of wider protection throughout the community.
Current government policy recommends immunisation for people with underlying health problems, for all those aged 65 and over, for people who live in a residential or nursing home, for those who are the main carer of an older or disabled person, or women who are pregnant.
But, the Joint Committee on Vaccination on Immunisation is currently considering the expansion of the vaccination programme, and has already made a preliminary recommendation that giving school-aged children (reception to year 12) the jab is the most cost-effective option for extending programme in children.
“If we can reduce flu infection rates among children, we can reduce the morbidity and death rate in the community generally, especially in the elderly," said said George Kassianos, Royal College of General Practitioners Immunisation lead and President of the British Global & Travel Health Association. "The addition of an intranasal flu vaccine provides us with an important option for the vaccination of children,” he added.