Last year uptake of influenza vaccine in children aged two and three was 44.4%, and 63.4% of those eligible in reception class, and school years 1 and 2.
This year, the vaccination programme will include children aged two to seven years of age.
Health officials in Wales are urging parents of two – seven year olds to get their children vaccinated against influenza (flu) this winter, to protect them from catching and spreading this potentially serious, highly contagious illness. This year, the programme is being extended to 7 year olds to help protect even more children from flu.
Flu can affect children severely. In recent years, in Wales, children and adults have been admitted to hospital and intensive care units with flu.
The flu immunisation programme offers a simple nasal spray vaccine for children aged 2-7 to help protect them from catching flu or spreading it to the people around them. It is most effective if given before flu starts to circulate. For two and three year old children the vaccine will be given at their local GP surgery, and for children in reception class and school years one, two and three, it will be given by the school nursing service at their school.
The nurses will require consent from parents before administering the vaccine to any child.
Consultant Paediatrician Dr Sian Owen at the Children’s Centre, Dolgellau, explains why the vaccination is important: “Young children are particularly at risk of serious complications of flu for a number of reasons. Not least, their immune systems are not yet fully developed so they can’t fight off the flu as well as older children and adults.
“Flu is easily spread within families and also, because of the nature of nurseries, playgroups and the school environment, toddlers and children are often in very close proximity to each other where they are especially susceptible to any circulating germs. Vaccination can help to stop the spread by protecting individuals and creating ‘herd’ immunity.”
For most healthy children, influenza (or ‘flu’) can mean several miserable days at home in bed, but parents should be aware that flu can sometimes result in serious complications, especially for very young children and those with long term health problems, such as moderate or severe asthma, for whom it can even be life threatening.
As Dr Owen explains:
“Children under five years of age, especially the very young, are more likely to develop complications as a result of flu. But children can be protected by a simple nasal spray vaccination.”
Dr Richard Roberts, Head of the Vaccine Preventable Diseases Programme at Public Health Wales, echoes Dr Owens’s call: “For most children the recommended flu vaccination is as a nasal spray, which is quick, safe, and completely pain free.
“This is the first year that seven year olds have been included in the routine NHS flu vaccination campaign in Wales in a bid to protect children and beat the flu bug spreading among children.”
This is in addition to other eligible groups strongly advised to get vaccinated such as those aged 65 and over, those in ‘at risk’ groups from six months of age with long term health conditions, all pregnant women, carers, and morbidly obese adults (with a BMI of 40 and over). Flu vaccine is the best way to stop spreading flu and that is why health and social care workers are also advised to have flu vaccination to protect them and the people they care for.
Each year the flu viruses that circulate can change so vaccines are also changed to match them. The flu virus is spread easily via droplets which are sprayed into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Contact with contaminated hands or surfaces can also spread infection. It can spread rapidly, especially in places such as hospitals, residential homes and, of course, schools, playgroups and nurseries. Getting an annual flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself against catching or spreading influenza.