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Dr Sanjay Gupta, Consultant Paediatrician at Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, explains in this blog why ensuring children are vaccinated against flu is important both for their health and to help the NHS cope with winter pressures.
Coronavirus and its variants have caused enough damage and disruption to everyone’s life over the past two years. We know that the Covid vaccine is effective and can reduce the risk of serious illness and death. Our hospitals have been extremely busy with both Covid and non-Covid patients for some time. I have personally seen just how much of a challenge it has been for our paediatric emergency department (ED) and ward teams to cope with the number of sick children presenting with non-Covid respiratory viruses, including various strains of the Influenza virus (flu for short).
Getting children vaccinated against the common strains of the flu virus will ease some of the pressures currently faced by our NHS. The flu vaccine is given as nasal drops to children aged two to 17 years. For some, this may need to be given as an injection. It is readily available in primary care through GP practices and in schools. It is safe and gives the best protection for children against flu.
Contrary to popular belief, children do get flu and can become seriously unwell with it such as getting a pneumonia – requiring hospital admission, antibiotic treatment and sometimes admission to a paediatric intensive care unit. Secondly, children are what we call ‘super-spreaders’ – they will mix with other children and adults in the household, at nurseries and school. This puts the vulnerable adults and infants (babies less than two years old) within the household at risk of becoming unwell with flu.
During the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, due to the lockdowns and limited social mixing, many childhood respiratory viruses, including flu, virtually disappeared! However, these viruses seem to have returned to an unusual extent since the summer of 2021.
Emergency departments up and down the country are busy with children with respiratory problems. Most of these children have infection with one of the common respiratory viruses, including the flu virus. Many of them are now in the older age group (two years and above), requiring hospital admissions, support with high-flow oxygen and sometimes care in paediatric intensive care. This could possibly be because they have not acquired immunity against the common respiratory viruses during their first year of life due to social distancing and lockdown.
A second surge in respiratory viruses is predicted for the beginning of February. Hence this is a good time to get children vaccinated against the flu to protect them and their contacts. The children’s nasal spray vaccine to protect against flu is easy to administer and pain-free. To find out more, including where to book your child’s appointment, please visit https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/child-flu-vaccine
Dr Sanjay Gupta is Consultant Paediatrician (Diabetes and Endocrinology) at Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, and completed his paediatric training at the Northern Deanery at Newcastle upon Tyne. Dr Gupta has a special interest in paediatric diabetes, endocrinology and acute general paediatrics. He is a qualified trainer with the Resuscitation Council (UK) for the European Paediatric Life Support Course, a Fellow of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) and a qualified peer reviewer for paediatric diabetes services under the remit of RCPCH quality improvement collaborative. He is current Chair of the Yorkshire and Humber Children and Young People Diabetes Network and an Honorary Senior Clinical Tutor for Hull and York Medical School.