Children are “super-spreaders” of flu and should be given the flu vaccine to prevent them passing on illness to grandparents and other vulnerable people over the Christmas period, warns the NHS.
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NHS England is encouraging take-up of the nasal spray vaccine for children aged two to nine years, due to the greater likelihood of them catching the flu whilst at nursery or school, where infection rates are high. The increased likelihood of flu spreading in these environment puts others at risk of becoming ill over the festive season, particularly those with heart, liver or lung conditions and pregnant women.
The nasal spray vaccines have been rolled out this autumn for two- to three-year-olds, children in reception class and those in years one to four at primary school, but only 18% of school-age children have taken up the vaccine so far, according to the latest estimates.
NHS England’s medical director for acute care, Keith Willett, says millions of people missed out on their free vaccination last year, despite it being such a simple, common sense step to help us all stay healthy. Earlier this month, NHS Improvement (NHSI) warned that the NHS is in an “extremely challenging” position due to the lack of beds that have been freed up as winter approaches.
NHSI is expecting this winter to prove problematic for hospitals. Between November 2016 and February this year there were an additional 400,000 A&E attendances, a 5.6% increase on the previous year.
Public Health England’s medical director, Paul Cosford, says the vaccine, which is “quick, easy and painless,” is the best way to protect against flu. Last year, take-up of the nasal spray vaccine significantly reduced children’s risk of being infected and the likelihood of them spreading flu to relatives and others who they come into close contact with.
The NHS is also calling for frontline social care workers to have the vaccine and is providing £10 million to fund take-up by staff working in residential, nursing and home care, to help prevent flu spreading amongst the elderly individuals.