NHS England has told parents to get their ‘super-spreader’ children vaccinated against flu in order to prevent grandparents and other vulnerable relatives from catching it over the festive period.
Children are termed ‘super-spreaders’ because of the higher chance of catching flu at nurseries or schools, which is where rates of contraction are highest. According to the latest figures, less than 1 in 5 children of school-age have been vaccinated against flu.
‘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,’ said Prof Keith Willett, NHS England’s medical director for acute care.
The flu vaccine is offered free of charge to children aged two and three, and a roll out of the scheme this year means those in reception and years 1, 2, 3 and 4 are also eligible. It is also administered by nasal spray rather than injection, which means it is ‘quick, easy and painless,’ said Dr Paul Cosford.
Dr Cosford, Public Health England’s medical director, 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.’
This winter is already shaping up to be a difficult one for the NHS, with fears of a harsh flu season coming from Australia and an inadequate attempt to free up hospital bed meaning more pressure of healthcare services. Last year, there was 400,000 more A&E patients between November 2016 and February 2017 – an increase of more than 5% on the previous year.
‘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,’ said Prof Willett.
The health service is also looking to vaccinate thousands of social care workers in an attempt to prevent the spread of flu in the elderly patients they care for. They have set aside £10m to offer the vaccine for free to residential, nursing and home care staff for the very first time.