News story

More than 4 million children to be offered flu vaccination

The flu programme is being extended to include children in year 3, helping to protect millions of people most at risk.

Young children

Public Health England (PHE) and NHS England are launching a major campaign to help children and the vulnerable stay well over the winter months.

The Stay Well This Winter campaign (SWTW) launches today (12 October 2016) with the biggest ever flu vaccination programme in England for children. This year the programme is being extended to those in school year 3, offering more than 4 million children protection against flu – around 600,000 more than last year. As well as offering protection to these children aged 2 to 7 years, it will help reduce the spread of this infection to the most vulnerable in the community, particularly younger children, the elderly and those with long-term conditions.

Building on the success of last year, children aged 2, 3 and 4 can now get the vaccination from their GP. The school vaccination programme gets underway later this week, with parents of children in years 1, 2 and 3 being asked permission for their child to get the free nasal spray vaccination at school. A survey showed that nearly 4 out of 10 (37%) parents of eligible children are unaware of the nasal spray. PHE and NHS England have launched a TV, radio and online advertising campaign to target parents and at risk groups.

Children are most likely to spread flu to others, so targeting them helps protect the wider community too. It is estimated that several million people get flu each winter, leading to more than 2,000 NHS intensive care admissions across the UK last year. Reducing transmission by children can potentially help cut the number of GP appointments and unplanned admissions for children and adults, reducing winter pressures on the NHS. The programme will be extended gradually to older age groups in primary school in future years.

Flu can be particularly dangerous for those with long-term health conditions, such as:

  • chronic respiratory disease including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis or emphysema
  • heart, kidney or liver disease
  • chronic neurological diseases, like multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy
  • diabetes

People with these conditions are eligible for vaccination because, if they get flu, it is more likely to develop into a serious illness, which could result in admission to hospital. On average someone with a long-term condition is 11 times more likely to die if they get flu than those not in at risk groups. The risk of death varies by condition, with patients with chronic liver disease 48 times more likely to die on average than those without an underlying health condition. There are around 6.8 million people with a long-term condition in England under 65 years of age.

The campaign is also encouraging pregnant women to get vaccinated against flu. Pregnancy naturally weakens the body’s immune system, and so flu can cause serious complications for the mother and her baby. The free vaccine is offered to other groups at particular risk of infection and complications, or liable to spread it to those at risk including:

  • anyone aged 65 and over
  • residents of long-stay care homes
  • carers

Those eligible should contact their GP, pharmacist or midwife, as appropriate, to arrange vaccination. Last year 12.4 million people were vaccinated overall in England.

The NHS and social care workforce is also being targeted to help protect them, and reduce the risk of frontline workers spreading infection to patients, particularly those in vulnerable groups. NHS Employers is running its ‘Flu Fighter’ campaign throughout the flu season providing advice, guidance and promotional materials to support local NHS trusts to get staff vaccinated.

As well as protecting against flu, the SWTW campaign will encourage those in at risk groups to prepare for winter, with advice on how to ward off common illnesses and avoid preventable hospital admission.

Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, said:

Flu can be much more dangerous for children than many parents realise, and when children get flu, they tend to spread it around the whole family. Every year, thousands of children have flu and it is not uncommon for them to be admitted to hospital. The single best way to help protect your children, and the rest of the family, is to get them vaccinated. For most, it is just a quick, easy and painless nasal spray.

Professor Paul Cosford, Director for Health Protection and Medical Director at PHE, said:

Vaccination is the best protection we have against flu, which can cause severe illness and even death among those most at-risk. This group includes pregnant women, people with a long-term health condition and older people.

I would encourage everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated to help protect themselves and those around them. It is important to get vaccinated every year. Flu is unpredictable and previous years’ vaccinations may not protect you against the types of flu virus circulating this year.

Published 12 October 2016