Immunisation: RSV - Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:47 pm on 16 April 2024.

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Photo of Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Non-affiliated 2:47, 16 April 2024

To ask His Majesty’s Government when a decision on eligibility for a potential 2024 respiratory syncytial virus immunisation programme will be confirmed, and whether this will be aligned to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s September 2023 advice.

Photo of Lord Markham Lord Markham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

The Government have made a policy decision on the eligibility of a potential RSV programme, which is in line with the JCVI’s September 2023 advice. We are working through the full business case, with costing and operational delivery, for final agreement in line with an autumn start.

Photo of Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Non-affiliated

I thank the Minister for his Answer, but what plans and resources, both staff and finance, are in place to enable the immediate implementation of any RSV immunisation programme for young infants and older adults, in line with the JCVI’s advice, once the ongoing market engagement and tender process is complete?

Photo of Lord Markham Lord Markham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

That process is absolutely going on at the moment, as well as operational delivery aspects. For infants, it depends on whether we choose a vaccine that goes into the pregnant mother or the infant, as the delivery mechanisms are obviously different. We are looking at the effectiveness of not just one vaccination versus the other but the delivery mechanism. There is a different delivery mechanism for the group aged 75-plus. The full programme business case is considering exactly that to make sure that we can deliver in the autumn.

Photo of Lord Allan of Hallam Lord Allan of Hallam Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Health)

My Lords, will the Minister commit to making the vaccination records for new programmes such as RSV available through the NHS app from the outset? I ask this as a parent who has just had to verify his teenage children’s MMR status by hunting down the red books last seen a decade ago to find the tatty piece of paper that is the only record of it. I now have a digital copy through my camera phone, but it would be much more useful to have this kind of record in the NHS app.

Photo of Lord Markham Lord Markham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

It will not surprise the noble Lord to learn that I totally agree. It is absolutely on the road map. I cannot promise it is there today; it is more there for adults. The child digital red book is another objective we are working on, but that is taking slightly longer. But in terms of direction of travel—yes, absolutely.

Photo of Lord Patel Lord Patel Chair, Preterm Birth Committee, Chair, Preterm Birth Committee

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, on pursuing this even before we had vaccines available. Now we have succeeded in getting the vaccine, but why has 75 years been chosen for adult immunisation, when we know that the incidence and prevalence of RSV infections is much more common for over-65s?

Photo of Lord Markham Lord Markham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I too add my thanks; the noble Baroness is very good at holding our feet to the fire, and it is very important and appreciated. Regarding the age group, we are being guided by the scientific advice on what is most cost-effective.

Photo of Baroness Merron Baroness Merron Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

My Lords, earlier this year we discussed the busy pipeline of new vaccines, including those for RSV, which, coupled with the concerning decline in the uptake of immunisation, does point to the need for a fresh look at delivery mechanisms. What steps are being taken to move beyond traditional arrangements, and when can we hope to see an improvement plan in place, in readiness for the RSV immunisation programme?

Photo of Lord Markham Lord Markham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

Of course, the communication needed for each one is different, and that is a vital consideration. As I said, we found that, often, it is easier to put RSV in the infant rather than the pregnant mother. It is a question of considering which is the most effective way to get the best outcome and the highest take-up rate. That is one of the key criteria we are looking at. Regarding general communication, the noble Baroness will be aware that, on MMR, we have challenges in both London and the West Midlands. That has shown that you need other communication routes to get to some ethnic minority groups, using technology such as the app. There is no one silver bullet —you need a series of measures in place.

Photo of Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Non-affiliated

My Lords, is the Minister confident that the implementation programme will take place before the 2024-25 winter period, as promised in previous iterations of this Question?

Photo of Lord Markham Lord Markham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

The goal is absolutely to make sure that the JCVI advice is there for the key winter period the noble Baroness mentions. That is the programme we are working towards, and this is where the logistics come in. It is not just about the effectiveness of each vaccine but, in terms of the maternal versus infant vaccination to which I referred, being confident of getting it in people’s bodies in time.