Parents of two - six year olds are being urged by healthcare professionals at Cwm Taf University Health Board (UHB) to get their children vaccinated against flu this winter, to protect them from catching, and also from spreading this potentially debilitating illness.
While some parents believe flu does not severely affect children, figures collected by Public Health Wales show that for the past few years, children have been admitted to hospital and intensive care units with flu as well as adults.
This year, the routine children’s flu vaccine programme has been extended to include five and six year olds so all those between the ages of two and three (age on 31 August 2015) and children in reception class, year 1 and year 2 in school are now eligible.
Two and three years were first offered the vaccine two years ago, followed by four year olds last year.
The vaccine for children is given as a simple nasal spray and those aged two and three will receive it at their GP practice while those in reception class, year one and year two, will receive the spray from health professionals at school.
The school will require consent from parents before administering the vaccine to any child.
Last year around 36.4% of children aged two, three and four in the Cwm Taf UHB area received the vaccine.
Dr Zed Sibanda, Consultant Paediatrician at Royal Glamorgan Hospital in Llantrisant, explains why the vaccination is important.
“Children at this young age are particularly at risk of serious complications of flu for a number of reasons,” he said.
“Not least, their immune systems are not yet fully developed so they can’t fight off the flu as well older children and adults.
“Flu is easily spread within families and also, because of the nature of playgroups and the school environment, toddlers and children are often in very close proximity to each other where they are especially susceptible to any circulating germs.
“Vaccination can help to stop the spread by protecting individuals and creating ‘herd’ immunity.”
For most healthy children, influenza (or ‘flu’) usually means several miserable days at home in bed. However, parents should be aware that flu can sometimes result in serious complications, especially for very young children and those with long term health problems, such as moderate or severe asthma, for whom it can even be life threatening.
As Dr Sibanda explains: “Young children cannot understand and communicate if they are starting to come down with flu-like symptoms – so flu might not be diagnosed until quite late compared to an adult.
“This means the child is more likely to develop complications as a result of flu. But this can all be prevented by a simple nasal spray vaccination.”
Dr Richard Roberts, Head of the Vaccine Preventable Disease Programme at Public Health Wales, echoes Dr Sibanda’s call; “The flu vaccination for most children is given as a nasal spray, so there are no injections. It is quick, safe and completely pain free.
“Even if a child gets a runny nose or sneezes immediately after the spray, they will still be protected.”
The Beat Flu campaign, which is led by Public Health Wales, aims to ensure that the people who need it most get protection each year against the flu. This includes everyone aged 65 and over, people with certain chronic long term health conditions and pregnant women.
Health and social care workers are also encouraged to have flu vaccination to protect them and the people they care for.
Each year the flu viruses that circulate can change so vaccines are also changed to match them. The flu virus is spread easily via droplets which are sprayed into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Contact with contaminated hands or surfaces can also spread infection. It can spread rapidly, especially in closed communities such as hospitals, residential homes and, of course, playgroups.