Public Health England is urging parents whose children have not yet been vaccinated against flu to do so before the winter flu season begins.

For the first time, children in year four (aged eight and nine) will be added to the school vaccination programme. The vaccination programme already covers children in Reception, Year 1, Year 2 and Year 3 (aged between 4 – 8) but now children in year four (aged 8-9) will also be able to get their free flu vaccination, in the form of a nasal spray, at school. The added school year means that an extra 170,000 children can receive protection against the flu virus this coming winter.

Last year in the South West, an estimated 50% of children aged between 2 – 8 years missed out on getting the vaccine. Pubic Health England commented that young children are particularly vulnerable to flu and are most likely to spread flu to others. Vaccinating them is one of the best ways to protect them and the wider community against flu.

This year, nationally Public Health England’s ambitions are for 65% of all 2-8 year old to receive the vaccination.

Dr Julie Yates, Screening and Immunisation lead for Public Health England South West, said, “Vaccinating those who are most likely to get flu both protects them and offers indirect protection to the rest of the population by reducing the amount of virus circulating.

“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. The childhood flu vaccination programme is really beneficial in reducing the spread of the infection to other more vulnerable family members for whom flu can be very serious.”

Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, added, “Any child can catch flu, thousands do every year and some end up in hospital as a result. Parents should not be complacent – the single most effective way to protect your children against flu this winter is to get them vaccinated with the simple nasal spray.

“Children can be super spreaders so getting them vaccinated not only protects them but also those around them.”

The national drive to encourage eligible people to get their flu vaccination is part of Stay Well This Winter, a joint initiative Public Health England and NHS England to help the most vulnerable people prepare for winter and avoid having to visit hospital due to common winter illnesses.

The drive also aims to encourage eligible people with long term health conditions to get the vaccine. People with respiratory diseases like COPD, emphysema or asthma are seven times more likely to die if they catch flu, and people with cardiovascular problems like chronic heart disease or angina, or who have had a stroke, are 11 times more likely compared to those who don’t. The risk is far worse for those with chronic liver disease, who are 48 times more likely to die if they get flu.

Reducing flu transmission by children in the community can has been found to help cut the number of GP appointments and unplanned admissions for children and adults, reducing winter pressures on the NHS.

To get your vaccine or find out if you are eligible, contact your GP, pharmacist or midwife for more information. Visit nhs.uk/staywell for more details on how to help you and your family to stay well this winter.

The flu vaccination programme will be extended gradually to older age groups in primary school in future years.