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) and other bacterial infections (such as pneumococcal disease) - children that receive the flu vaccine appear less likely to become unwell with Gp A strep and have lower rates of invasive pneumococcal disease. Find out more about Flu on the NHS Website.
Fortunately, your child can be protected from flu by having a flu vaccine each year. The children's flu vaccine is given to children through their nostrils. A nasal spray is used as it is the safest and effective way to give children the vaccine. The flu vaccine is offered every year to children aged two or three years old on 31st August, children from 5 to 11 years in primary school (reception to year 6), and any child aged 2 to 17 years with a long-term health condition. This year, the flu vaccination programme for children is being expanded to include all secondary school children.
Children at primary and secondary school (years 7 and 8) will be offered the vaccine though the NHS school-aged immunisation service. If your child misses 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
To learn more about flu and how it is spread watch this short video from Dr Ranj:
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 children that receive the live flu vaccine (nasal spray) shed the virus for a few days after vaccination (through sneezing or coughing). However, the vaccine virus is weakened (it does not survive long outside the body and dies at 37°C), so cannot infect the lungs and so cannot cause breathing issues. The amount of virus that children shed is normally below the levels needed to pass on the infection to others.
Children no not need to be excluded from school during the period when the nasal spray vaccine is being given. The only exception is the very small number of children who are extremely immunocompromised (if you are not sure, check with your school-aged immunisation service, the nurse or GP at your surgery, or hospital specialist).
The injected flu vaccine contains an inactivated virus that cannot give your child flu. Some children feel achy or slightly feverish after having the vaccine; it is a normal reaction of their immune system to the vaccine and generally lasts only a day or two.
It is completely safe for children with an egg allergy to have the nasal spray flu vaccine. The nasal vaccine contains a highly processed form of gelatine (porcine gelatine), which is used in a range of many essential medicines. The flu nasal spray is the most effective way of protecting your child from the flu but there is also the offer of the non-porcine, injectable vaccination, as an alternative to the nasal spray for children. You should discuss your options with your nurse or doctor, or school-aged immunisation service. The British Fatwa council accepts nasal spray for Muslims.
Children with long-term health conditions are at higher risk of flu. It's really important they're vaccinated every year. This includes children with weakened immune systems (including those on steroids or with problems with their spleen), chronic heart or lung problems, diabetes, asthma, and chronic kidney or liver disease. If it's their first time being vaccinated against the flu, children under 9 years old with long-term health conditions will usually be offered a 2nd dose of the flu vaccine from 4 weeks after the 1st dose. This helps them develop immunity against the flu for that first season. At-risk children aged from 6 months to 2 years should be given the inactivated (injected) flu vaccine rather than the intranasal vaccine.
It is tempting to think that flu is no worse than a bad cold, but in fact, it can be a very unpleasant illness for children. Most people recover within a few weeks but flu can lead to serious complications that need to be treated in hospital, and children still die every year from flu. Children with other medical conditions (diabetes, heart or lung problems, or weakened immune systems) are at higher risk of flu. Children can catch and spread the flu easily – they are ‘super spreaders’ of the flu. 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.
Although it is recommended that all children between 2 years of age and up to the age of 13 years (year 8 at school) have the flu vaccine, there are a large number of children outside of this age range that should also be vaccinated. This is because they have medical conditions that mean that they are at higher risk of a severe infection if they are getting 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 a vaccination appointment with your GP practice (pharmacies are unable to give the flu vaccine to children aged under 18 years).
The strains of circulating flu change each year which is why the vaccine needs to be changed each year to offer the best protection. No vaccine is 100% effective, including the flu vaccine. Flu vaccination is safe and effective and 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