Annual children’s flu vaccination programme gets underway in the South West

The annual NHS flu vaccination programme for children, including those aged 2-3 years, school age children, including home-schooled, and children over 6 months with certain health conditions, is getting underway, with parents and carers beginning to receive invites from this week.

  • Parents and carers in the South West urged to get children vaccinated against flu
  • Over 10,000 children hospitalised across England due to flu last winter
  • Flu vaccination best way to protect children from serious illness and limit spread of the virus to more vulnerable family and friends
  • Last winter, 55.3% of 4-14 year olds in the South West received the flu vaccine

The UKHSA and NHS England are calling on parents and carers in the South West to ensure children’s consent forms are completed, and that eligible pre-schoolers are booked in for appointments at their GP practice, to help halt the spread of flu this autumn and winter.

Over 500,000 children in Reception to Year 11 in the South West will be offered the free nasal spray flu vaccine, delivered in schools by immunisation teams up and down the country. Children aged 2 and 3 (on or before 31 August) and those in a clinical risk group are eligible for the free nasal spray via their GP practice.

Children aged between 6 months and 2 years with a long-term health condition that makes them at higher risk from flu will be offered a flu vaccine injection instead of the nasal spray. This is because the nasal spray is not licensed for children under 2 years old.

Flu rebounded last winter after being kept low since March 2020 by COVID-19 control measures. UKHSA’s preliminary analysis found that deaths linked to flu last winter were the highest since 2017-18. Over 10,000 children were hospitalised in England last winter due to the infection. Vaccination effectiveness data from last year showed that the vaccines reduced the risk of hospitalisations by two thirds.

Flu vaccine is the best protection we have against an unpredictable virus. Flu can be a very unpleasant illness in children causing fever, extreme tiredness, aching muscles and joints, stuffy nose, dry cough, and sore throat. Complications of flu include painful inflammation inside the ear, and pneumonia that makes breathing difficult.

Each winter thousands of children need to go to hospital for treatment, including intensive care, with children under the age of 5 years having one of the highest rates of hospital admissions due to flu. By getting vaccinated, your child also protects others around them, including babies, grandparents and people with weak immune systems.

Dr Julie Yates, Consultant in Public Health at UKHSA South West, said:

“Flu can be more than just an unpleasant illness in children – for some an infection is life-threatening, including kids who are normally very active and healthy. Flu vaccines give vital protection – not just keeping kids well, but also out of hospital. Each winter thousands of children require treatment in hospital for flu or its complications.

“Many of these episodes could be prevented by a simple nasal spray. On top of helping to keep your child healthy, the flu vaccine also helps stop the spread of flu in the community – helping to protect those who are more vulnerable and the elderly such as grandparents.

“When you get the electronic or paper consent form from the NHS school immunisation team, please make sure you return it, so your child doesn’t miss their nasal spray vaccination session. If you have a pre-schooler aged 2 or 3 on the 31st of August, you should make an appointment to get their nasal spray vaccination at your GP practice.”

NHS Consultant in Public Health, Screening and Immunisation Lead, South West, Dr Matthew Dominey said:

“With children recently returning to school, it is essential that they are vaccinated against flu as quickly as possible to protect themselves and their vulnerable loved ones. 

“This winter could pose a serious threat to our children and young people with the possibility of higher rates of flu, and we want to make sure they are protected from these potentially serious dangers.

“The fast and easy nasal spray has a proven record of protecting children who need it most, with the NHS offering it to the majority of children this year. 

“I would encourage anyone with questions to come forward and speak to your GP, pharmacist, or other healthcare professional for advice.”

If your child has a medical condition that makes them more at risk from flu, such as asthma or cerebral palsy, you can get them vaccinated at your GP practice if you don’t want to wait for the school session.  Children who can’t have the nasal spray for medical or faith reasons can have an injected flu vaccine instead, also provided free by the NHS.

The nasal spray vaccine does not cause flu, because the viruses in it have been weakened to prevent this from happening, but the weakened viruses help each child to build up immunity. This means vaccinated children will be better able to fight off flu. The vaccine is absorbed very quickly in the nose so even if the child sneezes immediately after having had the spray, there’s no need to worry that it hasn’t worked.

Side effects of the nasal spray are typically mild if present at all. Children may develop a runny or blocked nose, headache, general tiredness, and some loss of appetite. However, these are much milder than developing flu or complications of flu, and some of these will be due to common cold viruses circulating at the time the flu vaccine is given.

Infections such as flu, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), norovirus (the winter vomiting bug) and scarlet fever (caused by group A strep) usually start to rise throughout Autumn and Winter.Keeping children off school when unwell is important to slowing the spread of many illnesses. The nasal spray vaccine, which offers very good protection against flu, may also help contribute to reductions in the rates of GAS infections among children.

  • If your child is unwell and has a fever, they should stay home from school or nursery until they feel better, and the fever has resolved.
  • If your child has diarrhoea and/or vomits, they should stay off school or nursery for at least 48 hours after their symptoms clear up.
  • It’s fine to send your child to school with a minor cough or common cold. But if they have a fever, keep them off school until the fever goes.

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