Introduction: A universal childhood influenza vaccination programme was introduced in the UK in September 2013. We examine the impact of the gradual introduction of this programme on influenza-related paediatric intensive care unit (PICU) admission rates in England.
Methods: We extracted data on all influenza-related admissions to PICUs in England in resident children aged 0-15 years old between October 2003 and March 2017 from the Paediatric Intensive Care Audit Network (PICANet) database. We estimated influenza-associated PICU admission rates per 100 000 children by age group, sex and winter season (October to March), and used Poisson regression models to estimate incidence rate ratios (IRRs) in the winter seasons since the introduction of universal childhood vaccination compared with the two winters before the introduction of the programme (2011-2013).
Results: We identified 929 influenza-related PICU admissions among 873 children. 48.3% of admissions were among children aged less than 2 years old. The influenza-associated PICU admission rate was 1.32 per 100 000 children (95% CI 1.23 to 1.40). We identified a significant increase in influenza PICU admissions in the winters following the introduction of the universal childhood vaccination programme compared with the winters of 2010/2011-2012/2013 among children aged <5 years old: IRR 1.58 (1.05, 2.37) in children <1 year, 2.71 (1.43, 5.17) in 1 year-olds and 1.98 (1.18, 3.31) in children 2-4 years old. No significant difference was found among children aged 5-15 years.
Conclusion: The universal childhood influenza vaccination has not yet reduced the influenza-associated burden on PICUs in England during its early phase of introduction. Monitoring of influenza PICU admission rates needs to continue in England to assess the long-term impact of universal paediatric influenza vaccination. Linkage between PICANet and national infection surveillance databases would better enable such monitoring.
Keywords: clinical epidemiology; paediatric lung disease; respiratory infection.