Young children respond well to recommended swine flu vaccine

Children responded well to the two swine flu vaccines used in the UK during last year’s pandemic, a UK-wide study led by Oxford University has found.

The study results, published in the British Medical Journal today, helped inform decisions made by the UK Department of Health on vaccination strategies for protecting children against swine flu.

'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,’ says Dr Matthew Snape of the Oxford Vaccine Group.

During the 2009-10 swine flu pandemic, children experienced infections at four times the rate of adults and were more commonly admitted to hospital, making them a priority group for vaccination.

The team of UK researchers, led by the Oxford Vaccine Group, compared how children aged 6 months to 12 years responded to the two H1N1 vaccines purchased by the Department of Health for the national immunisation programme. The aim was to gain important information about their most effective use in children, helping inform the scientific community, policy makers and parents.

Over 900 children participated in the study at five centres across the UK – Oxford, Southampton, Bristol, Exeter and St George’s in South London – between September and December last year.

‘We showed that both vaccines generated good immune responses, with significantly higher antibody levels seen after immunisation with the [nationally] most commonly used vaccine,’ says Dr Snape. ‘This vaccine contained a new adjuvant 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.'

The study further highlights the importance of public participation in efforts to improve medical interventions, says one of the researchers behind the study from the University of Bristol. Adam Finn, Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Bristol Medical School, and co-author of the study, said: ‘This important study was performed in record time last autumn, thanks to the many families who came forward to participate. Without people who see and understand how taking part in research helps everyone, medical advances can't be made.’

Dr Snape agrees: 'This study is a great example of what can be achieved by researchers collaborating with each other and engaging the public in research. With funding from the National Institute of Health Research the participating sites were able to enrol over 900 children into this study in just over a month. 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.'