New swine flu vaccine 'working'

Researchers in Oxford say a new swine flu vaccine given to children last year appears to be working well in protecting them against the virus.

It's after a study of 900 children - involving children from the Oxford area - which was carried out in the autumn of 2009, to test how children aged between six months and five years responded to the vaccine.

Because the vaccine was new, it was unknown how well it would work in protecting children against the H1N1 strain of flu.

The research has found 98% of the toddlers given this jab were protected.  This vaccine was the one given to the majority of children during the national swine flu vaccination programme in late 2009/early 2010.

Among children given a second vaccine - which was not so widely distributed - only 80% were protected.

Scientists reckon the success of the first jab in the under threes could now improve the annual seasonal flu vaccine.

The study was a collaboration between the Health Protection Agency and the Universities of Bristol, Oxford, Southampton, Exeter, and St George's in London, assessing both vaccines for safety, tendency to cause reactions and ability to induce an antibody response.

During last year's pandemic, children were infected at four times the rate of adults and more commonly admitted to hospital with swine flu, making them a priority group for vaccination.

Dr Matthew Snape of the Oxford Vaccine Group at The University of Oxford told Heart:

"Children were a high priority for immunisation in the swine flu pandemic, and therefore last autumn we set out to study how well children responded to the two H1N1 influenza vaccines available in the UK. We showed that two doses of both vaccines generated good immune responses, with significantly higher antibody levels seen after immunisation with the most commonly used vaccine.

"This vaccine contained a new adjuvant (an emulsion) specifically designed to enhance the immune response, and did cause slightly higher rates of local reactions and fever. However most children receiving either vaccine had no more than minor reactions, and this study provides reassuring evidence that both vaccines were well tolerated and likely to provide good protection against swine flu.

"This study is a great example of what can be achieved by researchers collaborating with each other and engaging the public in research.''

The experts were able to recruit 900 children into this study in just over a month, after funding was provided by the National Institute of Health Research.

Dr Snape added: "This fantastic public response meant that we had reassuring data on the safety of these vaccines available in time to directly inform pandemic influenza immunisation policy in the UK."