Record numbers of people in England will be offered a free NHS flu vaccine this winter, Public Health England (PHE) has announced.
Every primary school child will be offered the nasal spray vaccine for the first time as part of NHS England’s largest ever flu protection drive.
This has seen the number of people eligible to receive the vaccine top 25 million this year, with two and three-year olds, those aged 65 or over, those with underlying health conditions and pregnant women also eligible.
Children are ‘super spreaders’ of flu and vaccinating children ‘protects more vulnerable members of the community from a potentially horrible illness,’ said Professor Yvonne Doyle, medical director at PHE.
Frontline health and social care employers have been told they have a responsibility to ensure staff receive the vaccine, and NHS England is funding vaccines for social care and hospice workers with older adults more vulnerable and likely to suffer if they catch flu.
Record numbers of NHS staff – almost three-quarters of a million or 70.3% of frontline workers – took up their workplace jab last year. However, the rates of healthcare workers who received the vaccine varied widely between NHS trusts, with the lowest at 36.8% and the highest at 95.4%.
A wider range of flu vaccines are available this year, including a new cell-based vaccine that protects against four strains of flu has been offered to older adults, under 65s with underlying health conditions and pregnant women.
This type of vaccine virus is grown in cells rather than eggs, and so avoids the changes that can occur when using eggs in the manufacturing process (egg adaptation). Egg adaptation may mean that vaccines do not work as well, evidence suggests.
Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director at NHS England, said: ‘People might think that flu is just a cough or cold, but actually this serious illness can have devastating effects on people including causing death in some cases.
‘NHS services across England have been working hard to prepare for the winter season, including staff in every part of the country getting their flu jab in the coming weeks, so now we’re appealing to the public to Help Us, Help You by ensuring that you, your children or relatives take up the free and convenient flu vaccine as soon as you can.’