Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals

WHO recommends seasonal influenza vaccination to pregnant women as the highest priority

A elderly woman in India receives an influenza vaccine

In an updated position paper, published in the Weekly Epidemiological Record today, WHO recommends that countries considering the initiation or expansion of seasonal influenza vaccination programmes give the highest priority to pregnant women. Additional risk groups to be considered for vaccination, in no particular order of priority, are: children aged 6-59 months; the elderly; individuals with specific chronic medical conditions; and healthcare workers.

Countries with existing influenza vaccination programmes targeting any of these risk groups should continue to do so and should incorporate immunization of pregnant women into such programmes.

Country-specific information about risk groups, disease burden and epidemiology, and vaccine cost-effectiveness are important to aid national policy makers and health programme planners in making informed decisions about target groups, timing for vaccination and coverage goals.

Children under six months of age can be protected against influenza through vaccination of mothers during pregnancy and vaccination of close contacts to limit transmission of influenza viruses to the young infant.

Although influenza vaccination aims primarily at protecting vulnerable high risk groups against severe influenza-associated disease and death, influenza causes considerable morbidity worldwide and represents a public health problem with significant socioeconomic implications. Internationally available vaccines for the control of seasonal influenza are safe and efficacious and have the potential to prevent significant annual morbidity and mortality.

Influenza is typically characterized by fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache, muscle and joint pain and malaise. In young children, impaired respiration, dehydration, altered mental status, and irritability signify serious disease.

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