With less than a month until Christmas, the NHS today appealed to parents to take up the free flu vaccination for children to curb infection over the holiday season when family get-togethers spread the infection, putting grandparents and other vulnerable relatives at risk.
Health officials say that without the flu vaccination children are more likely to contract the flu at nursery or school and then spread the virus at a rapid rate, posing a particular risk to the elderly and other people at higher risk.
The NHS has dramatically expanded free flu vaccinations this year to cover children in school year 4 and care home workers for the first time. However fewer than one in five school age children, 18%, has had the nasal spray immunisation, according to the latest figures.
Flu is not like a winter cold and can lead to serious complications, increasing the risk of death in older people and other vulnerable groups such as asthma sufferers, pregnant women and patients with heart, liver and lung complaints.
NHS England and Public Health England, as well as East Lancashire and Blackburn with Darwen Clinical Commissioning Groups, are calling on hundreds of thousands of front-line social care workers who have contact with numerous vulnerable people to take up the free flu vaccine.
For the first time the NHS is providing £10million to offer vaccination to registered residential, nursing and home care staff to help curb the spread of flu to elderly people in their care.
As well as protecting people, the investment will ease the pressures that a heavy outbreak of influenza could place on NHS services especially over the busy Christmas and New Year holiday period.
Professor Keith Willett, NHS England’s Medical Director for Acute Care, said: “Flu can be spread more easily by children, especially to vulnerable relatives such as older grandparents, those with heart or lung conditions and pregnant family members.
“With less than a month until family gatherings over the festive season, there’s still time for parents to get their ‘super-spreader’ children vaccinated to help protect elderly relatives over Christmas and before the flu season traditionally reaches its peak.
“Last year millions of people missed out on their free vaccination and yet it’s one simple, common sense step to help us all stay healthy this winter.”
Dr Phil Huxley, Chair of NHS East Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “Many people think flu is just a bad cold. It’s not. Flu can cause serious complications. Every year some children with flu become extremely ill and many of these would have been protected if only they had received their free vaccination.”
Dr Paul Cosford, Medical Director, PHE said: “The vaccine is the best protection there is against flu, which causes on average 8,000 deaths a year – many of which occur in the winter months. The nasal spray vaccine last year reduced children’s risk of flu by 65% meaning they were less likely to spread it to relatives and others they come into close contact with.
“Over the next few weeks ahead of Christmas, we urge parents of eligible children aged two and three to book their vaccine via their GP or local pharmacy. Parents should also give consent for eligible school-aged children to receive the vaccine in school. It’s quick, easy and painless.”