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Concern over low rate of 2 to 3 year olds getting the flu vaccine

Following the latest UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data showing the low uptake of the flu vaccine among 2 and 3 year olds and the high rates of under 5s being hospitalised with flu, UKHSA is warning parents of the importance of ensuring their young children are vaccinated.

During week 46 (between 14 and 20 November), it is estimated that over 200 children under 5 were hospitalised suffering from serious complications caused by flu. These figures are estimated based on confirmed influenza cases in NHS acute hospitals.

The uptake of the flu vaccine among 2 and 3 year olds (30.9% and 32.9% respectively in week 46) has dropped considerably when compared with the last 2 years, by around 11%.

Flu is now circulating at higher levels than recent winter seasons and young children are particularly vulnerable and can become seriously unwell. Due to coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions in the past couple of years most young children will not have ever encountered flu. This means they will not have built up any natural immunity to this virus, so it is particularly important for them to take up the flu vaccine this year.

GP surgeries are inviting children aged 2 and 3 years old (age on 31 August 2022) for the nasal spray vaccination at their practices. If you haven’t heard from your GP surgery you should contact them directly to make an appointment.

All primary school children and some secondary school children are also eligible for the flu nasal spray this year, which is usually given at school.

Dr Conall Watson, Consultant Epidemiologist at UKHSA, said:

Young children are particularly vulnerable to becoming very poorly from flu. For the third week running we have seen hospitalisation rates among children under 5 jump up, with a 70% increase in just the last week. Over 200 children were hospitalised because of flu in one week.

Flu is now circulating at higher levels than recent years and because of the pandemic restrictions most young children will not have encountered flu before. This means they will have no natural immunity and are therefore at even greater risk this year.

Two and 3 year olds can get protection with a free nasal spray vaccine from the NHS. Nobody wants their child to get sick so I strongly urge parents to book the vaccine at their GP surgery as soon as possible.

Case study

Anjali and Ben Wildblood from Bristol, parents of a 2-year-old boy, Rafa, wanted to share their story to encourage other parents of 2 to 3 year olds to ensure their child receives the flu vaccine. Both work as NHS consultants and had every intention of getting their son vaccinated as soon as possible, but could not attend the appointment they were offered and before they could reschedule their son became very sick. Ben and Anjali told us about their experience:

Before we were able to get our 2-year-old son, Rafa, booked in for a flu vaccine, over the course of a weekend he became very sick, with a high temperature and breathing difficulties. He had previously suffered with croup and had been treated with steroids, but this was clearly some other very concerning respiratory problem.

We took him into A&E where he was treated and we returned home. But his condition got worse again, with a soaring temperature and exhaustion – he had no strength whatsoever and what was so extremely worrying was that he barely had the strength to breathe; every parent’s worst nightmare.

We returned to A&E and he was admitted to the paediatric Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Even as NHS consultants, seeing your child in ICU is a terribly frightening experience. He was put under general anaesthetic and intubated, which involved inserting a tube into his throat so he was able to breathe. His swab results came back showing he had Influenza type A. After 2 long agonising days of intubation in ICU, his condition improved and he began to recover. He is now home and doing well.

No parent wants this for their child or to go through a similar terrible experience. We urge other parents of 2 to 3 year olds to ensure your child gets their flu vaccine as soon as possible. Our son has now been vaccinated as we wanted to be sure he was protected against other strains of flu that may be circulating.

Source: GOV.UK