NHS England is urging parents to vaccinate “super-spreader” children against flu so grandparents and other vulnerable relatives will be less at risk over the Christmas period.
Flu vaccines administered through a nasal spray rather than an injection have been rolled out this autumn for two and three-year-olds, and children in reception class and years one to four in primary school.
Children are super-spreaders because of the greater likelihood of them contracting flu at nursery or school, where germs are passed on at a rapid rate. But only 18% of school-age children have had the nasal spray immunisation, according to the latest figures.
Prof 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.
“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.”
With less than a month until Christmas, the NHS is urging parents to book their children in for the free vaccination to help curb infection over the festive season, when family get-togethers can spread the infection.
Earlier this month, the health service regulator, NHS Improvement, warned that the NHS was in an “extremely challenging” position with winter approaching because hospitals have failed to free up enough beds.
As a result, this winter is likely to prove difficult for hospitals, NHSI said. There were 400,000 additional A&E attendances between November 2016 and February, bringing the total to more than 7.5m, an increase of 5.6% on the previous year.
Flu can lead to serious complications and increase the risk of death in older people and among other vulnerable groups such as those with asthma, pregnant women and patients with heart, liver and lung complaints.
The NHS is also calling for hundreds of thousands of frontline social care workers to take up the free flu vaccine, providing £10m to offer it to registered residential, nursing and home care staff for the first time to help curb the spread of flu to the elderly people they are looking after.
Dr Paul Cosford, the medical director at Public Health England, 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 … It’s quick, easy and painless.”