Parents urged to protect their two-and three-year olds against flu ahead of challenging winter

Health experts in the South West are encouraging parents and carers to take the dangers of flu seriously this winter and to protect their children by getting them vaccinated.

The call from NHS England South West comes as data from Australia – which has been through its winter – shows that rates of flu and other infections occurred earlier and were much higher this year. Flu has also had a significant impact on their schools and on hospitalisations of young children.

Experts believe that this is because young children had not been exposed to infections over the past few years and so have little immunity to them as a result. This is likely to be mirrored here in the UK and we are seeing infection rates already starting to increase. In an average year, flu hospitalises and kills thousands of mostly elderly persons and those with medical conditions. It can however also cause serious illness and deaths in healthy younger people and children. For young people, flu can go on to cause other complications such as bronchitis and pneumonia, and ear infections and septicaemia. It can also spread easily from young children to other vulnerable people including babies and elderly family members.

The best way for parents and carers to protect their toddlers, young children and wider families against serious complications of the flu is to arrange for your child to have a flu vaccination.

If you have a 2 or 3-year-old pre-school child, please make an appointment with your GP practice for them to have their flu vaccine at your earliest opportunity. Older children (over 4 years of age) are offered the vaccine at school – if you have an older child, please make sure you sign the consent form so they may be vaccinated in the school clinic.

Even if your child had a flu vaccination last year, the type of flu can vary each winter, so it is recommended that they have the flu vaccine each year to boost their immunity.

Flu symptoms can appear very quickly and include a high temperature, often above 38oC, an aching body, feeling exhausted, sore throat and runny nose and loss of appetite. Children may also become less active and get ear pain.

Dr Julie Yates, Lead Consultant for Screening and Immunisation for NHS England and NHS Improvement South West said: “With this winter posing a serious threat to our children and young people with possible new strains and potentially higher rates of flu, we want to make sure they are protected from these potentially serious dangers.

“There is a misconception that flu is like a common cold and therefore no vaccine is needed, however this is most definitely not the case as flu can be a very serious illness, luckily one that can be prevented. Having the vaccine will drastically decrease the chances of your child being seriously ill or being hospitalised.

“The nasal spray contains the weakened flu virus, which will help your child build up their immunity, and, contrary to some popular belief, the vaccine will not cause flu. That’s why we are offering children who are 2-3 years old the free nasal spray vaccine which is fast, effective and pain free.”

The nasal spray is safe and effective and offers the best protection for children aged 2 to 17 years. In some instances, an alternative to the nasal spray can be offered if the nasal spray vaccine is not suitable.

Please speak to your child’s nurse or doctor if they are aged 2 or 3 and your schools’ immunisations team if your child is in primary to Year 11 at school. Parents and carers of home-schooled children should contact their local community clinic.

The nasal spray flu vaccine is free on the NHS for:

  • Children aged 2 and 3 on 31 August 2022
  • School aged children (all Primary school aged children. Reception Year to Year 6 and eligible Secondary school aged children)
  • Children aged 2 to less than 18 years of age in clinical risk group unless medically contraindicated