A phased introduction of routine influenza vaccination of healthy children was recommended in the UK in 2012, with the aim of protecting both vaccinated children and the wider population through reducing transmission. In the first year of the programme in 2013-2014, 4- to 11-year-olds were targeted in pilot areas across England. This study assesses if this was associated with school absenteeism, an important societal burden of influenza. During the spring 2014 term when influenza predominantly circulated, the proportion of absence sessions due to illness was compared between vaccination pilot and non-pilot areas for primary schools (to measure overall impact) and secondary schools (to measure indirect impact). A linear multilevel regression model was applied, adjusting for clustering within schools and potential school-level confounders, including deprivation, past absenteeism, and ethnicity. Low levels of influenza activity were reported in the community in 2013-2014. Primary schools in pilot areas had a significantly adjusted decrease in illness absenteeism of 0·05% relative to non-pilot schools; equivalent to an average of 4 days per school. In secondary schools, there was no significant indirect impact of being located in a pilot area on illness absenteeism. These insights can be used in conjunction with routine healthcare surveillance data to evaluate the full benefits of such a programme.
Keywords: Impact; influenza; school absenteeism; vaccination.