You want to do what is best for your child. You know about the importance of car seats, stair gates, and other ways to keep them safe. But, did you know that one of the best ways to protect them is to make sure they have all of their vaccinations?
Keep up-to-date with your child’s vaccinations using this vaccination planner.
This year, due to the extremely high rates of flu, it is especially important that your child receives their flu vaccine. If they get flu, they may need treatment in hospital and/or may transmit flu to other family members who may become unwell (children are super-spreaders of flu). Children under the age of 5 years have the greatest risk of being
This year it is especially important that your child receives their flu vaccine as rates of flu are extremely high. It’s not too late to have the vaccine.
Flu vaccination is important because flu can be dangerous and even life threatening for some people, particularly those with certain health conditions and young children.
If your child does get flu, they may need treatment in hospital and may also transmit it to other members of your family who may become unwell (children are super-spreaders of flu). After the elderly (aged over 75 years), children under the age of 5 years have the greatest risk of being admitted to hospital with flu. Flu also increases the risk of them developing a bacterial chest infection (including group A strep pneumonia) - children that receive the flu vaccine appear less likely to become unwell with Gp A strep.
To learn more about flu and how it is spread watch this short video from Dr Ranj:
The children's flu vaccine is given to all children in a nasal spray and is free on the NHS for:
Many children aged 6 months to 2 years with long-term conditions should also receive the flu vaccine. This will be by injection rather than the nasal spray and will be given by your GP practice.
Children at primary and secondary school (years 7 and 8) will be offered the vaccine though the NHS school-aged immunisation service. Don’t worry if your child has missed their vaccine at school; it is likely that they can attend a community clinic to have it given; simply contact your local school-aged vaccination service (your child’s school will have the contact details). If your child is not yet in school, your GP practice will be able to give them the vaccine.
If your child is outside the age range of the school’s programme but has a long-term condition or cannot have the live nasal vaccine, your GP practice should be able to give them the vaccine.
Flu vaccinations are also recommended for some adults who are more likely to get seriously ill if they get flu. You are eligible for a free flu vaccine if you are pregnant, over 50, or have certain health conditions – click here for more information to see who is eligible.
'Flu isn't serious, so my child doesn't need a flu vaccine' and 'My children never get ill, so they don't need the vaccine'
It is tempting to think that flu is no worse than a bad cold, but in fact it is a serious disease which can infect anyone. Although most children do not become severely unwell with flu, in children with other medical conditions (heart or lung problems or weakened immune systems), flu can lead to hospitalisation or even death. In addition, children are superspreaders of flu, which means that even if they are mildly affected, they can easily infect other family members, such as grandparents or people with medical conditions who may become extremely unwell.
'My child is outside of the age range for routinely receiving the flu vaccine. Should I arrange for them to have it anyway?'
Although it is recommended that all children between 2 years of age and up to the age of 13 years (year 9 at school) have the flu vaccine, there are a large number of children outside of this age range that should also have it. This is because they have medical conditions that mean that they are at higher risk of getting severe infection if they are infected with flu. This includes children with:
If your child falls into any of these categories and is not due to have their flu vaccine at school, please book them in to your GP practice to have it given (pharmacies are unable to give the flu vaccine to children aged under 18 years).
'The nasal spray that children get is a live vaccine - I'm worried that if my child has it they will infect relatives/grandparents'
There is no evidence that healthy unvaccinated people can catch flu from the nasal flu spray (either from airborne spray droplets in the room where the vaccine is given, or from vaccinated individuals ‘shedding’ the virus).
It is known that vaccinated children shed the virus for a few days after vaccination (through sneezing or coughing). However, the vaccine virus is weakened (it is “cold adapted” which means it dies at 37°C), so cannot infect the lungs (and so cannot cause breathing issues) and so isn't really able to spread from person to person. The amount of virus that children shed is normally below the levels needed to pass on infection to others. The virus does not survive for long outside the body.
It is therefore not necessary for children to be excluded from school during the period when the vaccine is being given. The only exception is the very small number of children who are extremely immunocompromised (for example, those who have just had a bone marrow transplant).
'Last year my children had the flu vaccine but they got ill anyway, so it doesn't work'
No vaccine is 100% effective, including the flu vaccine. The strains of circulating flu change each year which is why the vaccine needs to be changed each year to offer the best protection. However, the vaccine usually prevents about half of all flu cases. For people who get flu after being vaccinated, the disease is often less severe than it would have been. It is important to remember that the flu vaccine only protects against flu, but there are other illnesses which have flu-like symptoms which you can still catch after getting the flu vaccine. It takes up to two weeks for the vaccine to take effect, so you could still catch flu if you are exposed to the virus during this time. Getting vaccinated as early as possible in the season can help to prevent this.
Use this video to explain to your child why they are having the flu vaccine
Unfortunately, as these vaccine preventable infections become less and less common, social media coverage on vaccines increasingly focuses on their side effects and adverse reactions. Although there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that the MMR vaccine is associated with an increased risk of autism, misinformation about this has directly resulted in unnecessary parental anxiety and a significant drop in MMR vaccine uptake. Unfortunately, we are now seeing an increasing number of cases of measles in the UK and across Europe. This has resulted in severe illness and even deaths in a number of adults and children. Even if you think your child will be protected by herd immunity (other people being vaccinated around them), this is no longer the case with MMR because far less than the required 95% of the population are being vaccinated. In addition, if your child was to travel to another country (even when they are an adult) or come into contact with someone with measles who is visiting from abroad, they will be completely unprotected and may contract the infection (LINK). Unfortunately, measles is highly infectious and is spread by water droplets, coughed or sneezed by infected individuals.
For more information about the safety of the MMR vaccine and parent stories, click here
Babies aged 6-12 months of age travelling to a country with high rates of circulating measles or to an area where there is a current measles outbreak, who are likely to be mixing with the local population, should receive a dose of MMR vaccine before 12 months of age. This is because of the increased risk of severe measles disease in young children, including brain infection (SSPE). As the response to MMR in infants is sub-optimal where the vaccine has been given before one year of age, immunisation with two further doses of MMR should be given at the recommended ages.
It’s normal to have questions about any medication that you’re giving to your child and vaccines are no exception. The most common questions that parents ask are:
Won’t herd immunity protect them? Herd immunity does not protect against all diseases. The best example of this is tetanus, which is caught from bacteria in the environment, not from other people who have the disease. In addition, for herd immunity to work properly, most people in the population need to be vaccinated. There are low vaccination rates in some parts of the UK and in some communities, as well as in many overseas countries. This means that if your child is not vaccinated, it is quite likely that many of the people they come into contact with will not be vaccinated either. So if one person gets an infectious disease, it can spread quickly through all the unvaccinated people in the group (this happened during the 2013 measles outbreak in Wales).
A guide to immunisations for children upto 5 years of age is available in various languages - click here
Parents often worry that a child’s immune system will not be able to cope with several vaccines at once. In fact, even a tiny baby’s immune system can cope easily. Starting from birth, babies come into contact with millions of germs every day. It is estimated that the human body contains enough white blood cells to cope with thousands of vaccines at any one time. If a child was given 11 vaccines at once, it would only use about a thousandth of the immune system. It is not a good idea to delay vaccinations to ‘spread the load’, because it leaves the child unprotected against serious diseases for longer.
All vaccines go through a long and thorough process of development and testing before they are licensed for use. Vaccines have to be tested on adults and children separately before they can be used for different age groups; this is because vaccines that work in adults may not work so well in children. No vaccines are tested on children before they have been fully tested on adults. Click here for more information about vaccine safety and side effects.
Click here for more information about common questions, concerns and comments that people have about vaccines