The annual NHS flu vaccination programme for children, including those aged 2-3 years, school age children, including home-schooled, and children over 6 months with certain health conditions, is getting underway, with parents and carers beginning to receive invites from this week.

The UK Health Security Association (UKHSA) and NHS England are calling on parents and carers in the South West to ensure children’s consent forms are completed, and that eligible pre-schoolers are booked in for appointments at their GP practice, to help halt the spread of flu this autumn and winter.

Over 500,000 children in Reception to Year 11 in the South West will be offered the free nasal spray flu vaccine, delivered in schools by immunisation teams up and down the country. Children aged 2 and 3 and those in a clinical risk group are eligible for the free nasal spray via their GP practice.

Children aged between 6 months and 2 years with a long-term health condition that makes them at higher risk from flu will be offered a flu vaccine injection instead of the nasal spray, due to it not being licensed for children under 2 years old.

Flu rebounded last winter after being kept low since March 2020 by COVID-19 control measures. UKHSA's preliminary analysis found that deaths linked to flu last winter were the highest since 2017-18. Over 10,000 children were hospitalised in England last winter due to the infection. Vaccination effectiveness data from last year showed that the vaccines reduced the risk of hospitalisations by two thirds.

Dr Julie Yates, Consultant in Public Health at UKHSA South West, said: “Flu can be more than just an unpleasant illness in children – for some an infection is life-threatening, including kids who are normally very active and healthy… Many of these episodes could be prevented by a simple nasal spray. On top of helping to keep your child healthy, the flu vaccine also helps stop the spread of flu in the community – helping to protect those who are more vulnerable and the elderly such as grandparents.

NHS Consultant in Public Health, Screening and Immunisation Lead, South West, Dr Matthew Dominey said: “With children recently returning to school, it is essential that they are vaccinated against flu as quickly as possible to protect themselves and their vulnerable loved ones…This winter could pose a serious threat to our children and young people with the possibility of higher rates of flu, and we want to make sure they are protected from these potentially serious dangers.”