Each year when flu season rolls around, people start to talk about ‘the flu vaccine’ as if there is one single product on offer. The reality is that in any given year there are multiple brand-specific vaccines available for doctors to choose from.
For example, in 2019-020, 11 influenza vaccines were licensed in Europe alone. The Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) project DRIVE, whose mission is to find a better way of studying the effectiveness of flu vaccines, carried out a survey among doctors in four European countries to try to understand first of all how they go about offering vaccination to their patients, and then how they choose between vaccines when there is more than one available.
The responses from the 360 people involved in the study revealed that in Austria, Italy and Spain, doctors offer flu vaccines when the patient comes in for a consultation, while in the UK, patients get a letter inviting them for a shot.
Some other notable differences emerged among countries: in Austria and Italy, the vast majority of doctors (80%) only had one choice of vaccine brand that they could offer to people over 65, a high-risk group for flu complications. For patients under 65, however, there was more choice: in Italy, 70% of doctors said there was more than one vaccine type available for people under 65. 79% said the same in Spain, though Austrian doctors only had more than one type to offer younger people in 45% of cases.
In these cases where doctors had a choice, the decision was based not only on how old the person was but also whether or not they had other health issues that put them at higher risk.
The conclusion the researchers came to is that the vaccine options offered to older people in these countries tends to be more limited, and is not necessarily determined by their individual characteristics. This is less the case for people under 65. This data is helping the DRIVE researchers figure out the different factors that affect the success – or otherwise - of influenza vaccination campaigns.
DRIVE is supported by the Innovative Medicines Initiative, a partnership between the European Union and the European pharmaceutical industry.