Annual campaigns encourage the elderly to get the flu jab before the winter sets in, but there’s another segment of the population that should also be vaccinated to help protect the over-65s. Children have been described as ‘super spreaders’ by NHS bosses, which could pose a risk for their grandparents.
As Christmas draws near, the NHS is recommending children take advantage of a free nasal spray to immunise them against flu. Despite being offered to all kids up to the age of nine, just one in five are having the precautionary measure, leaving the majority at risk of infecting the elderly.
The concern is that children will pick the influenza virus up at school or nursery and spread it to their grandparents when they visit during the festive season. Catching the flu can be particularly dangerous for older people and can lead to complications with their health.
Last winter alone, some 34,300 people died of circulating viral infections, which include the flu, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures. The virus increases the chance of dying or being admitted to hospital, making them weaker and more at risk of long-term health issues.
Professor Keith Willett, NHS England’s Medical Director for Acute Care, said: “Flu can be spread more easily by children, especially to vulnerable relatives such as older grandparents.
“With less than a month until family gatherings over the festive season, there’s still time for parents to get their ‘super-spreader’ children vaccinated to help protect elderly relatives over Christmas and before the flu season traditionally reaches its peak.
“Last year millions of people missed out on their free vaccination and yet it’s one simple, common sense step to help us all stay healthy this winter.”
It’s not just children that the NHS is encouraging to get the vaccine for the sake of the elderly, however. The service, along with Public Health England (PHE), is also highlighting the importance of frontline care staff also taking the precaution.
These are the people that come into daily contact with the over-65s and are there to help protect them. It is therefore important that they are not spreading the virus and contributing to a potential epidemic. Some £10 million has been invested in flu vaccination to help prevent a serious outbreak this winter.
Dr Paul Cosford, Medical Director at PHE, said: “The vaccine is the best protection there is against flu, which causes on average 8,000 deaths a year – many of which occur in the winter months. The nasal spray vaccine last year reduced children’s risk of flu by 65 per cent meaning they were less likely to spread it to relatives.
“Over the next few weeks ahead of Christmas, we urge parents of eligible children aged two and three to book their vaccine via their GP or local pharmacy. Parents should also give consent for ... children to receive the vaccine in school. It’s quick, easy and painless.”
Families coming together over Christmas is one of the things that elderly people look forward to the most. The psychological benefits of being visited by young children should not be overlooked, but it’s vital they are not overshadowed by a serious illness, such as flu, following the event.