Public Health England (PHE) is encouraging parents and carers to help protect their children from flu this winter, as the largest ever programme vaccinating children against it gets underway. This year, the vaccine is being offered to 2 – 4 year-olds, those in school years 1 and 2, and is being extended to school year 3, helping protect more than 4 million children against flu – 600,000 more than last year.
But with a survey of parents of eligible children showing nearly 4 out of 10 (37%) are unaware of the nasal spray, a campaign has been launched to raise awareness of flu vaccination among parents and at risk groups, such as pregnant women. Although 55% of parents understand the need for their children to be vaccinated every year, nearly 1 in 8 (13%) have either never given vaccination any thought, or report that the main thing putting them off vaccination is that their children seldom get flu (12%).
Nearly a third of parents (29%) think flu is just a severe cold in children when it can be a more unpleasant and serious illness. Children have the same symptoms as adults including fever, chills, aching muscles, headaches and a sore throat. More than one in three parents (35%) think children recover from flu in a couple of days. In fact, sometimes children need up to a week in bed before they are on the mend. Some children develop a very high fever or complications from flu, such bronchitis or pneumonia. Children in the under 5 age group are more at risk of being admitted to hospital due to flu than any other age group.
Mabinty Esho, had the flu vaccination while pregnant, said:
“I was advised to have the free flu vaccination by my midwife and GP whilst I was pregnant. I think it’s better to be safe than sorry and wanted to protect myself and my baby against the flu. I felt perfectly well after having the flu vaccine and would 100% recommend it to other pregnant women.”
Ensuring that young ones are vaccinated can reduce the spread of this infectious disease amongst the whole family, protecting those who are vulnerable like grandparents. It also helps protect those most at risk in the community, such as people with long-term health conditions. Flu can be particularly dangerous for those with long-term health conditions. These include: chronic respiratory disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis or emphysema; heart, kidney or liver disease; chronic neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy; and diabetes. It is estimated that several million people get flu each winter, with it leading to more than 2,000 NHS intensive care admissions across the UK last year.
The free flu vaccine is also available for pregnant women. Research shows that around four in 10 (42%) of pregnant women got their jab last year. Pregnancy naturally weakens the body’s immune system, and as a result it can cause serious complications for both mother and her unborn baby. Despite this, a fifth of pregnant women (19%) who didn’t get vaccinated said they didn’t get the free flu jab because they thought, mistakenly, it might harm their baby.
“Flu can be much more dangerous for children than parents realise. Data shows that children under the age of 5 are most likely to be admitted to hospital for flu compared to any other age group.
“The single best way to protect your child is to get them vaccinated. The nasal spray is a quick and easy way to help prevent young children catching flu.
“I would urge all African and Caribbean parents with children aged 2-7 to get their children vaccinated. Don’t put it off, it’s free – because your family needs it.”
“Let’s be clear on the facts, flu can cause serious complications for pregnant women and their babies. The safest way to help protect them both is the flu vaccine.
I fully support this campaign and would encourage all African and Caribbean pregnant women and parents with children aged 2 – 7 to get the flu vaccine. This will help protect them and reduce the risk of spreading the flu to others.”
Visit www.nhs.uk/staywell for more details on how to help you and your family to stay well this winter.