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Flu campaign extended to four-year-olds

Drive to boost staff uptake of vaccine from 55%

Adrian O'Dowd

Monday, 06 October 2014

The latest national seasonal flu campaign in England launches today and will be offered to four-year-olds for the first time.

Public Health England (PHE), organisers of the four-week long campaign, are also keen to continue the trend of growing numbers of healthcare staff who are also getting the jab to protect themselves and their patients from catching flu.

PHE said the NHS had to prepare for an unpredictable flu season in its new campaign, which is being promoted across press, radio and online channels to target people with certain health conditions such as asthma and diabetes, pregnant women and parents of children aged 2 to 4.

The free vaccination from GP practices in the form of a nasal spray, which was offered to two and three-year-olds last year has been extended to include four-year-olds this year.

PHE said that each winter, hundreds of thousands of people saw their GP and tens of thousands were hospitalised because of flu and last winter, there were 904 people admitted to intensive care or high dependency units with laboratory confirmed flu and, of them, 11% (98 people) died.

Estimates of the annual number of deaths attributable to flu, which include deaths where flu is not reported, range from 4 to 14,000 per year, with an average of around 8,000 per year.

PHE said people with flu were approximately 11 times more likely to die if they had an underlying health condition than if they did not.

However, despite this, only 52% of people aged 6 months to 65 years living with an underlying condition, which made them more at risk of severe infection, took up the offer of the free flu vaccine during 2013 to 2014.

Last year’s flu season was less severe than in previous years, but PHE warned that flu was an unpredictable virus and it was impossible to predict the impact of the disease and how many serious cases there might be.

Vaccination uptake in healthcare workers with direct patient care, such as GPs, is also being encouraged this year to continue the rising trend – it stood at 35% of healthcare workers in 2010-11, rising to 45% in 2011-12, 46% in 2012-13 and 55% in 2013-14.

Professor Dame Sally Davies, England’s chief medical officer, said: “Flu is a really unpleasant illness, particularly for our most vulnerable patients and it is essential that people take steps to protect themselves during the winter months.

“I would urge those who are offered the free flu vaccination to visit their GP early in the flu season. I also urge all health care workers to make sure they are vaccinated to protect themselves, their patients and their families.”

Dr Paul Cosford, director for health protection and medical director at PHE, said: “The nasal spray is a quick, easy and painless way to help prevent pre-school age children catching flu and the vaccine also helps to reduce the spread of flu to those who are more vulnerable.

“Last year, around 40% of pregnant women protected themselves and their baby from flu by getting vaccinated. This year we want to see more pregnant women and their babies protected.”

Similar vaccination schemes are being run in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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