Routine influenza vaccine programme now includes all eight year olds for the first time.
Children aged two to eight can be protected against flu with a simple, free NHS nasal spray vaccine this winter.
The vaccine, which involves no needles, is available to children who were aged between two and eight on 31 August.
Public Health Wales is urging parents of eligible children to ensure they have the vaccine, which helps protect against catching flu as well as helping to prevent the spread of this potentially serious and highly contagious illness.
Influenza can affect children severely and in recent years in Wales, children and adults have been admitted to hospital and intensive care units with flu. The age range for children to receive this vaccine has been extended this year to include children in primary school year four, so more children will be protected this winter than ever before.
For most children the recommended flu vaccination is a nasal spray, which is quick, safe, and completely pain free.
Cwm Taf University Health Board’s Director of Public Health, Dr Kelechi Nnoaham said: “This vaccination is really important. Young children are particularly at risk of serious complications of influenza because their immune systems are not yet fully developed so they can’t fight off infections like influenza as well as older children and adults can.
“Influenza is easily spread within families and in places like nurseries, playgroups and schools, toddlers and children are often in very close proximity to each other and especially susceptible to any circulating germs. Vaccination can help protect individual children from flu and also help stop it spreading to the wider community.”
For two and three year old children, the vaccine will generally be given at their local GP surgery, and for children in reception class and school years one, two, three and four, it will be given at their school. Parents/guardians are required to give consent before any child receives the flu nasal spray vaccine.
Television presenter Mari Grug has two young children and is a strong advocate for the vaccination. She said: “I feel it is very important that my children are vaccinated against flu as it not only protects them but also others around them, in school and at home.
“When I was pregnant I made sure I had the vaccination to give my children the best start in life and I welcome the opportunity for them to be vaccinated themselves during their early years.”
For most healthy children, influenza can mean 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.
Dr Richard Roberts, Head of the Vaccine Preventable Disease Programme at Public Health Wales, said: “The vaccine provides good protection for children against influenza and is most effective if given before flu starts to circulate.
“By extending the age range so that eight year olds are now also included in the routine flu vaccination campaign in Wales we can protect more children and help reduce the risk of flu spreading.”
In addition to children, other groups strongly advised to get vaccinated are pregnant women, individuals from six months of age with long term health conditions, people aged 65 and over and carers. Health and social care workers are also advised to have the flu vaccination to protect themselves and the people they care for.
Immunity wanes over time and each year the flu viruses that circulate and cause health problems can change so vaccines are also changed to match them. Getting an annual flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others from catching or spreading influenza.
For further information visit www.beatflu.org or follow Beat Flu on Facebook and Twitter.