Each year, flu vaccinations are offered in the UK. It is important to establish whether this ongoing programme is reducing the spread of flu and whether it is cost effective. This study used GP data to investigate the effectiveness of the flu vaccines in 2008/9 and 2009/10.

Why was this work needed?

Every year in the UK, flu vaccination is offered free of charge via the NHS to the most vulnerable in society, including people age 65 and over and those with chronic conditions. The types of flu in circulation, and therefore the exact composition of the vaccine, change every year, so it is necessary to assess the benefits and the cost effectiveness of the programme on a year-by-year basis.

What happened?

This research used GP records to compare indications of flu, for example a person visiting their GP with flu-like symptoms, with the date of vaccination. This research specifically looked at the vaccination programme in 2008/9 and also 2009/10 when a pandemic flu vaccine was used in response to the swine flu (H1N1) outbreak.

What were the benefits?

This study demonstrated that the percentage reduction of flu-like illness GP consultation rates among patients who were vaccinated compared to those who were not was 22% (2008/9) and 21% (2009/10). Studies of this kind are necessary to provide evidence for this large-scale vaccination programme.

What type of data was involved?

This study used GP records from GPs who were registered with the Royal College of General Practitioners’ network. The data included the dates of flu vaccination, diagnoses and medications prescribed, if any.

Public Health England (the Health Protection Agency at the time of this study) receives this de-personalised data as part of the Health Service Act, in order for it to meet its obligations around surveillance of infectious disease and vaccine programme evaluation.

Who funded and collaborated on this work?

This work was supported through the I-MOVE project, funded by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Where can I go for more information?

Effectiveness of trivalent and pandemic influenza vaccines in England and Wales 2008–2010: Results from a cohort study in general practice