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Health: RSV Immunisation

Volume 835: debated on Wednesday 17 January 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps are being taken to ensure that appropriate funding is in place to deliver immunisation programmes for respiratory syncytial virus by the 2024/25 winter season, and when an implementation plan will be published.

The Government published a prior information notice on 27 November 2023 outlining the market’s intention to tender against its requirements for infant and adult RSV programmes in 2024. Following the tender and the confirmed potential budget implications, a final decision on programme designs will be taken alongside an implementation plan for autumn 2024.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. For the avoidance of doubt, can he explain to your Lordships’ House what funding has been allocated to the national immunisation programme for the 2024-25 winter season; what proportion of that funding has been allocated for immunisation programmes for adult, infant and neonate RSV; and what conversations have been held with NHS England regarding readiness to implement the RSV immunisation programme, as advised by the JCVI?

First, I thank the noble Baroness. She has been a tireless campaigner on this issue and very good—quite rightly—at holding our feet to the fire. The exciting news is that the new vaccines that are coming along for both mothers and infants, as well as the over-75s, are now cost effective; that was recognised in the JCVI’s analysis. As part of that, we have plans to fund the programme, as mentioned. I would rather not go into the details of the actual budgets, because they depend on the tender and I do not want to give that information out to the market—but I can reassure the noble Baroness that plans are in place.

My Lords, RSV is a leading cause of infant mortality globally. Sadly, as my noble friend the Minister will know, 20 to 30 such deaths occur in the UK. I am pleased to hear about the progress that the Government are making to roll out the programme in the UK, but my noble friend will know that rolling out this programme will significantly reduce costs to the NHS by reducing GP visits, reducing attendance at A&E and reducing the 20,000 hospitalisations of infants aged under one year. Can my noble friend the Minister say, as we move towards autumn 2024 and the rollout of the vaccination programme, what the Government are doing to ensure that mothers and families know about the programme so that they can take up this vaccination when it is available?

As I mentioned, the tender is in place with a view to rolling it out in the autumn. Whether we go for the maternal vaccination or the infant one will depend on the communication plan, but I can assure my noble friend that a communication plan will be part of this ground-breaking rollout. Only one other public health rollout like this has happened in the world—in Galicia, Spain—so I am proud to say that we will be top of the list.

My Lords, during the pandemic, we learned the value of having a clearly identifiable owner of a new vaccination programme. Can the Minister tell us who the owner of the RSV vaccination programme is so that, in a year’s time, we can come back here either to congratulate them on a successful rollout next winter or to hold them accountable if it has not happened?

A DHSE team is working closely with the NHS, because that needs to be rolled out. Again, it depends on whether we go for the maternal option or do it via a different process with infants. The final answer on that will depend on the groups that are chosen; likewise, vaccinating the over-75s will more likely be in a primary care situation. When we finalise all those things, there will be a very clear plan, but there is a team in DHSE that is responsible and accountable for this.

My Lords, over the past decade, we have seen the take-up of immunisation decrease. Particularly worrying is the great disparity between white Britons receiving the flu vaccine, where coverage is 83.6%, and black Britons at just 52.2%. In anticipating the RSV immunisation programme, how do the Government plan to address vaccine hesitancy, particularly in the black community?

The noble Baroness is absolutely correct. This applies to the take-up of a whole range of vaccinations—MMR is another example, as is polio. Inner cities, including London and cities in the West Midlands, seem to be examples where take-up is quite a few percentage points lower, not just because of ethnic minorities but more because those areas have larger migrant populations, who often have not been part of the vaccination programme. Specifically to that aim, we are now publishing information in 15 languages and are trying to reach out to some harder-to-reach groups, such as ethnic minorities, the Traveller community and Orthodox Jews. There is a programme for all this, because it is a challenge. We all know that, during Covid, we talked about an R rate of 1.5. Would you believe that, for MMR, it is 13? That is just to give noble Lords an idea. It is very, very infectious.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising a very important issue. Getting the new RSV immunisation programme up and running correctly will undoubtedly save lives and, to ensure that it happens, it is really important that we learn all that we can from areas of success and failure in recent vaccine rollouts. The latest was the shingles general immunisation programme, which was introduced for all over-70s in September. Can the Minister give some indication of what data capture of rollout, uptake, demand, delivery and efficacy has been instituted and how those learnings can be applied to a future RSV programme?

My noble friend is quite right. If we take the shingles one, we see quite a disparity. The 70 to 75 element of the programme has a 74% take- up while the 65-plus element has only a 41% take-up—so there is a huge difference. We are starting to collect the data so that we can understand those disparities and then, as I mentioned in answer to the previous question, make sure that we have an action plan to address those groups.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Ritchie on her tenacity and declare a selfish interest in that I have had this wretched virus two winters running. I will be able to buy the vaccine later this year if it is not available otherwise, but millions of people, including those supporting infants, will not. That is a disgrace, is it not?

As I say, we are looking to have an infant programme. It is vital in the first few weeks for babies, which is why we are doing this whole plan, thanks to the pressure and the medical evidence. I echo what has been said about the relentless campaign for it all by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie. We have got a tender in place. The intention is that we will be rolling it out from the autumn. I repeat that there is only one other public vaccination programme on this so far, in Galicia in Spain, so we really are at the forefront of this programme.

My Lords, as I discussed with the Minister last year, we have already had approval for private use of RSV for over-60s, so anyone who has up to £200 available has been able to get that RSV vaccination. That is for over-60s. We are talking about a public scheme for over-75s. Is data being collected on the effectiveness and overall health impacts on people who are having the vaccine privately, which might inform whether we should have a broader public programme?

The JCVI process is similar to the NICE approach. They look through the quality-adjusted years framework and make sure that it reaches within that. That is how they came up with their calculations. So far it is only the older ones, 75-plus, that they think are enough of an at-risk group in terms of hospitalisations and mortality to justify that. But I will inquire further and get back to the noble Baroness I am sure that they are capturing the data so that we can check on the younger ages.

My Lords, a number of noble Lords referred to the fact that there were disparities between different communities in the take-up of previous vaccines. My noble friend the Minister acknowledged that. Given the experience of previous vaccine rollouts, what specific lessons has his department learned that it will put into practice to make sure that it reaches some of those hard-to-reach communities in the rollout of those vaccines?

You have to have the data and the records so that those who you know have not been vaccinated you have to go and get specifically. In London we have been running an under-fives programme, calling all those who have not been vaccinated to come and get a vaccine. That will be rolled out to under-11s and even up to under-25s, having learned precisely those lessons.