Painless nasal vaccine offers hope in flu battle

HANK SCHOUTEN
Last updated 05:00 18/11/2013

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A new painless flu vaccine where every child gets a little squirt up the nose instead of a needle jab could be much more effective in controlling flu epidemics in the future.

The new vaccination system, now being adopted in Britain, is being suggested by Immunisation Advisory Centre director Nikki Turner following the release of figures showing New Zealand has been through its mildest flu season in more than 20 years.

Environmental Science and Research investigator Sue Huang said there had only been four or five influenza deaths this year - far fewer than the 49 recorded in 2009.

This was helped by the fact that more than a quarter of the population had flu vaccinations this year.

Associate professor Turner said vaccines now in use were not particularly effective, working 50 to 60 per cent of the time.

At present New Zealand only recommended vaccinating the very young and very old as there was not enough evidence that vaccinating everyone would guarantee immunity for the whole community.

But the strategy could change if New Zealand followed Britain's plan to vaccinate every child by squirting live attenuated flu vaccines up their nose.

"It is more effective at reducing the spread of flu and the UK is going to introduce it next year for all children.

"It is not yet licensed in New Zealand but once it gets licensed we could recommend a different strategy of vaccinating every child every year."

It would also have the benefit of doing away with the fear factor of a jab.

Newer, more effective flu vaccines were also coming for elderly people.

These included an additional protein that caused a stronger immune system response, said associate professor Turner.

Dr Huang, principal investigator of the Southern Hemisphere Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness Research and Surveillance (SHIVERS) Project, said infection and death rates varied a lot from year to year.

It depended on the virulence of the predominant strain, immunity levels and vaccination rates.

About 1.2 million New Zealanders were vaccinated this year - more than ever before - because of concern that New Zealand could be hit by the H3N2 strain which was circulating in the US early this year.

A lot of people were worried by that, but as it turned out, the B strain was the most common this year and "we had a low mild season".

Dr Huang said it was important that people did not drop their guard and she wanted to see even more people vaccinated before next year's flu season.

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- The Dominion Post

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