Children are considered to be “super spreaders” of winter flu. This is mostly due to the increased likelihood of them coming into contact with the illness in schools, where germs are spread at rapid rates, and also due to the fact they have weaker immune systems than adults. Despite this, only 18% of school-age children in the UK have had the nasal spray immunisation offered by the NHS.
The NHS have urged parents across the country to get their children vaccinated, in order to protect vulnerable older relatives who will be at greater risk over the winter months. The new vaccines, which are being administered via a nasal spray rather than an injection, have been rolled out and are being offered to all children between the ages of two and nine.
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.”
Flu can lead to potentially life threatening complications for older people, as well as other vulnerable groups including those with underlying health conditions and pregnant women. The NHS hopes that the free vaccination will help to slow down the rates of the virus spreading through the festive season, where more families get together and it could be much more easily spread among relatives.
The NHS has warned that the lack of hospital beds could put it in an “extremely challenging position” over the winter, especially through the winter months. More efforts are being put into ensuring an adequate level of service to the public, as the number of A&E attendances continues to rise. The number hit 7.5 million between November 2016 and February 2017. The NHS is desperately looking to reduce these figures by increasing funding for the flu vaccine, not just among young children, but also for frontline care workers and nursing and home care staff.
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.”