The national flu vaccination programme will be extended to cover children up to the age of seven for the first time, Public Health England has announced.
This means that over four million children will be given inoculations against flu, a rise of approximately 600,000 on the year. Children aged two to four can now get the vaccination in general practice. PHE is also calling for greater awareness of the vaccinations, after a survey showed that nearly four out of 10 parents of eligible children said that they are unaware of the nasal spray.
‘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,’ said chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies. ‘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.’
Sharon White, professional officer of the School and Public Health Nurses Association said that flu transmission can happen 'very quickly and easily among children as they are often in group situations (eg nursery, or school) and its impact can stretch beyond the child who has it'.
Public Health England is also urging people with long-term health conditions to be aware of the dangers flu poses. Patients with chronic respiratory disease, heart, kidney or liver conditions, and neurological issues such as cerebral palsy can be seriously harmed by contracting flu.
‘A bout of flu can mean a child missing up to two weeks of school in some cases, and their parent/carer also having to take time off work to care for them,' added Ms White. 'For children with long-term health conditions such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease or lung disease, flu can be particularly worrying as they are more at risk of developing serious complications.'
‘Vaccination is the best protection we have against flu, which can cause severe illness and even death among those most at-risk,’ said Paul Cosford, director for health protection and medical director at PHE. ‘This group includes pregnant women, people with a long-term health condition and older people.’