Vaccination is generally considered to be the best primary prevention measure against influenza virus infection. Many countries encourage specific target groups of people to undertake vaccination, often with financial subsidies or a priority list. To understand differential patterns of national target groups for influenza vaccination before, during and after the 2009 influenza pandemic, we reviewed and analyzed the country-specific policies in the corresponding time periods.
Information on prioritized groups targeted to receive seasonal and pandemic influenza vaccines was derived from a multi-step internet search of official health department websites, press releases, media sources and academic journal articles. We assessed the frequency and consistency of targeting 20 different groups within populations which are associated with age, underlying medical conditions, role or occupations among different countries and vaccines. Information on subsidies provided to specific target groups was also extracted.
We analyzed target groups for 33 (seasonal 2009 and 2009-10 vaccines), 72 (monovalent pandemic 2009-10 vaccine) and 34 (seasonal 2010 and 2010-11 vaccines) countries. In 2009-10, the elderly, those with chronic illness and health care workers were common targets for the seasonal vaccine. Comparatively, the elderly, care home residents and workers, animal contacts and close contacts were less frequently targeted to receive the pandemic vaccine. Pregnant women, obese persons, essential community workers and health care workers, however, were more commonly targeted. After the pandemic, pregnant women, obese persons, health care and care home workers, and close contacts were more commonly targeted to receive the seasonal vaccine compared to 2009-10, showing continued influence from the pandemic. Many of the countries provided free vaccines, partial subsidies, reimbursements or national health insurance coverage to specific target groups and over one-third of the countries offered universal subsidy regarding the pandemic vaccine. There was also some inconsistency between countries in target groups.
Differences in target groups between countries may reflect variable objectives as well as uncertainties regarding the transmission dynamics, severity and age-specific immunity against influenza viruses before and after vaccination. Clarification on these points is essential to elucidate optimal and object-oriented vaccination strategies.