Over half a million children in North West to be offered vaccination against flu

Monday, October 17, 2016

This year’s flu campaign, part of Stay Well This Winter (SWTW), has now launched and will see more than 542,000 children aged 2-7 years in the North West being offered the vaccination to protect them from the infection.

At risk adults, including those with long-term health conditions, pregnant women and those over 65 will also be offered flu vaccination.

An extension of the programme to children in school year 3 this year means a further 90,000 in the North West can be vaccinated. Across England, more than 4 million children will be offered protection against flu – around 600,000 more than last year.

As well as offering protection to these children aged 2 to 7 years, it will help reduce the spread of this infection to the most vulnerable in the community, particularly younger children, the elderly and those with long-term conditions.

Building on the success of last year, children aged 2, 3 and 4 can get the vaccination from their GP. Parents of children in school years 1, 2 and 3 are asked to give permission for their child to receive the free nasal spray vaccination at school.

In Bury free flu vaccination is available for all primary aged children. This area took part in a whole-school pilot for the programme and arrangements are continuing this year.

A survey showed that nearly 4 out of 10 (37%) parents of eligible children are unaware of the nasal spray. A TV, radio and online advertising campaign starts this week targeting parents and adults in at risk groups who are also eligible for free vaccination.

Children are most likely to spread flu to others, so targeting them helps protect the wider community too. It is estimated that several million people get flu each winter, leading to more than 2,000 NHS intensive care admissions across the UK last year. Reducing transmission by children can potentially help cut the number of GP appointments and unplanned admissions for children and adults, reducing winter pressures on the NHS. The programme will be extended gradually to older age groups in primary school in future years.

Flu can be particularly dangerous for those with long-term health conditions, like respiratory disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis or emphysema, diabetes; heart, kidney or liver disease; and chronic neurological diseases, like multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy. People with these conditions are eligible for vaccination because if they get flu, it is more likely to develop into a serious illness, which could result in admission to hospital. Last year, 49 % of people with a long term health condition in the North West were vaccinated against flu.

On average someone with a long-term condition is 11 times more likely to die if they get flu than those not in at risk groups. The risk of death varies by condition, with patients with chronic liver disease 48 times more likely to die on average than those without an underlying chronic health condition. There are nearly 6.8 million people with a long-term condition in England under 65 years of age.

The campaign is also encouraging pregnant women to get vaccinated against flu. Pregnancy naturally weakens the body’s immune system, and so flu can cause serious complications for mother and her newborn baby. Last year 46% of pregnant women in the North West took up the free vaccine.

The free vaccine is offered to other groups at particular risk of infection and complications, or liable to spread it to those at risk: anyone aged 65 and over; residents of long-stay care homes; and carers. Those eligible should contact their GP, pharmacist or midwife, as appropriate, for more information.

Last year 12.4 million people were vaccinated overall in England.

The NHS and social care workforce is also being targeted to help protect them, and reduce the risk of frontline workers spreading infection to patients, particularly those in vulnerable groups. The NHS is running its ‘Flu Fighter’ campaign throughout the flu season providing advice, guidance and promotional materials to support local NHS trusts to get staff vaccinated.

Dr Rosemary McCann Deputy Director for Health Protection at PHE North West said:

“Flu can be far more dangerous than parents realise and of course, when they get it, they tend to spread it around the whole family. Every year, thousands of children get sick and it is not uncommon for them to be admitted to hospital.

“The most effective way to help protect your child and the rest of the family is to get them vaccinated. For most it is not even an injection, it’s just a quick, easy and painless nasal spray. The extension of the flu immunisation programme means that more than 90,000 children will be covered meaning that over half a million of children in the North West will be eligible this season.

“I would also urge everyone who is eligible for the vaccine such as pregnant women, those aged over 65 and people with long term health conditions, who are at much greater risk of becoming seriously unwell if they catch flu, to get themselves protected. It is free because people in at risk groups need it. The sooner they have the jab the better.

“Everyone should also remember that maintaining good cough and hand hygiene, such as covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough and sneeze, disposing of the tissue as soon as possible and cleaning your hands as soon you can are important actions that can help prevent the spread of germs and reduce the risk of transmission.”

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