With the colder months approaching, flu season is only around the corner and so it's best to be prepared.
Flu is very common, and often confused with other viral infections, but it can be severe and have serious complications. Since there aren't any specific treatments, prevention really is key!
Up until now, the best ways to prevent it have included: being careful around those infected, hygiene measures (e.g. hand washing and the 'catch it, bin it, kill it' campaign) and the injectable flu vaccine. The vaccine has so far been offered to people who are at risk, such as the elderly and those with complex or long term medical problems.
However, as of this month, a NEW universal childhood flu vaccination campaign is being launched - starting with 2-3 year olds. Here are some important things to know…
WHAT IS THE NEW VACCINE PROGRAMME?
Starting this month all children aged 2-3 will be offered an annual nasal spray vaccine (called Fluenz) as part of the routine UK schedule. It will be administered by giving a spray up each nostril - that means no needles! Some parts of the country will vaccinate other ages too, and eventually all children aged 2-16 will be offered it.
IS IT DIFFERENT TO THE USUAL VACCINE?
The nasal spray vaccine means it will be easier (and pain-free) to give, and is actually more effective than the injectable version. Children with long term health problems will be given the nasal spray vaccine too. Some children will not be able to have it for medical reasons and they might be offered the injectable type instead. Other groups (e.g. elderly, pregnant, adults with long term medical problems) will continue to be offered the injection.
WHY ARE WE DOING THIS?
Flu is horrible for anyone that has it and can have serious complications. Children readily catch and pass on the virus that causes it, and also remain infective for longer! So not only do they get ill themselves, but so do those around them - including those at higher risk of complications!
By vaccinating we will protect individual children and also help to stop it spreading to other people - preventing thousands of hospitalisations and deaths each year.
WHY IS IT GIVEN EVERY YEAR?
The flu virus changes every year and so the vaccine has to adapt too so it gives the best protection. Like the injectable version, the vaccine has to be given every year as it is slightly different each time.
WHAT ARE THE SIDE-EFFECTS?
Fortunately, Fluenz has a very good safety profile and has been used in other countries (e.g. USA) for many years already. The most common side effect is a runny nose. Other possible effects include fever, headache, loss of appetite and feeling unwell. It is always possible to have an allergic reaction, but this is very rare and is the case for any vaccine.
Some people worry about overloading children's immune systems with vaccines - this is a big misunderstanding and there is no evidence for it whatsoever.
HOW DO I GET THE VACCINE?
Your GP or child's school should contact you from September to arrange for vaccination. If you want any further information then you can always speak to your doctor or nurse, or check NHS Choices.