Public Health England (PHE) is encouraging parents and carers to help protect the three million eligible children from flu this winter.
This year, the vaccine, administered in the form of a nasal spray, is being offered to 2–3 year olds, those in school years, 1, 2, 3 and for the first time, children in year 4. Children aged over 4 in reception will also be eligible to have their vaccine done in school this year.
New data published in August of this year showed that last year’s flu vaccine nasal spray reduced the risk of flu in vaccinated children by 65% across the UK last winter, meaning 65 children in every 100 were protected from flu.
Flu can be very serious illness for little children. They have the same symptoms as adults – including fever, chills, aching muscles, headaches and a sore throat. Some children also develop a very high fever and complications such as pneumonia and bronchitis which may require treatment in hospital.
Dr Paul Cosford, Medical Director for Public Health England, said:
“Young children’s bodies can find it hard to cope with flu, so it is especially important to protect them with the vaccine. The nasal spray is a quick, effective and painless alternative to needles. Once ill, children also tend to spread infection more to other vulnerable family members, such as grandparents, so protecting them is a good way to protect the rest of the family.
“Getting the vaccine is the best way to help protect against catching flu. So I urge all parents whose children are eligible for the free nasal spray not to put it off. It’s free because your family needs it.”
Whilst seasonal flu can be an unpredictable virus, the vaccine is the best form of protection against flu. Vaccinating those who are most likely to suffer the worst from flu also offers a protective effect for the rest of the population by reducing the overall spread of the virus.
The free flu vaccine is also available for pregnant women. Research shows that under half (48%) 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.
Mabinty Esho, a mother of a two-year old, said:
“I had the flu jab when 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.”
“My son will be two soon and has been offered the free nasal spray, I will be making sure he gets vaccinated so that he is protected.”
Dede Efueye, Midwife, University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation, said:
“As a midwife I’ve seen first hand the serious complications flu can cause 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 – 8 to get the flu vaccine. This will help protect them and reduce the risk of spreading the flu to others.”
Flu can be particularly dangerous for people 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. Vaccinating children, who are super-spreaders of the virus, can offer indirect protection to other, more vulnerable family members.
Those who are eligible for a free flu vaccine should contact their GP, pharmacist or midwife now, for more information. Parents of children in reception and school years 1, 2, 3 and 4 are encouraged to give permission for their children to receive the free nasal spray vaccination.
Visit nhs.uk/staywell for more details on how to help you and your family to stay well this winter.