A guide to the flu vaccine in primary schools

For the first time ever, all primary school children will receive the flu vaccine to try and prevent its spread

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article which originally appeared on Huffington Post

Record numbers of people in England will be offered a free flu vaccine this winter, including all primary school children for the first time ever. Previously, only children in Year 5 and below were given the vaccine; this year, an extra 600,000 children will benefit from it, as the scheme rolls out to Year 6 pupils too.

It’s hoped the roll-out will reduce illness, GP consultations, hospital admissions and even deaths in the community. So what do parents need to know about the vaccine?

What is flu?

Influenza is not the same as a cold – the symptoms are often worse and tend to come on very quickly. Symptoms can include a high temperature, fatigue, a dry, chesty cough, headaches, chills, aching muscles and limb or joint pain. Other signs include diarrhoea or abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, a sore throat, a runny or blocked nose, sneezing, loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping. Children might also develop a pain in their ear and appear less active.

Why are children given the vaccine?

Professor Yvonne Doyle, medical director for PHE, said vaccinating children against flu protects the rest of society, too. “Children are ‘super spreaders’ of flu,” she said. “Flu vaccination not only protects the children but also protects other, more vulnerable, members of the community from a potentially horrible illness.”

For people with existing medical conditions, like asthma or heart disease, flu can progress into more serious illnesses, such as bronchitis and pneumonia, or even worsen their existing conditions. In some cases it can even result in death – last season, there were an estimated 1,692 deaths in the UK linked to flu.

How will children be given the vaccine?

This year’s vaccine will be given to children in the form of a nasal spray, rather than a needle unless they have a medical condition that means they should receive the injectable version; it aims to protect against four strains of flu. Side effects of the nasal vaccine can include a runny or blocked nose, headache, tiredness and some loss of appetite. In total, around 4.7m school aged children in England will be offered the vaccine. “It’s the best defence we have against an unpredictable virus,” said Professor Doyle.

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How effective is it?

Last year’s nasal spray flu vaccine was 48.6% effective among children aged two-to-17 years old, Public Health England has reported. The 2018 vaccine was more effective than the 2017 vaccine, data shows.

It is hard to improve effectiveness as, every year, scientists have to guess which strains will be most prevalent; this year they estimate that the following strains will circulate, based on surveillance of flu seasons in the southern hemisphere:

  • A/Brisbane/02/2018 (H1N1) virus strain.
  • A/Kansas/14/2017 (H3N2) virus strain.
  • B/Colorado/06/2017 virus strain (B/Victoria/2/87 lineage).
  • B/Phuket/3073/2013 virus strain (B/Yamagata/16/88 lineage).

When will the vaccine be issued?

If they haven’t had it already, children will receive their flu vaccine throughout the autumn school term up until the end of November, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said at a media briefing. Flu cases tend to peak in December, so people are urged to get vaccinated before then.

What to do if your child has flu

If your child develops flu they should stay home and rest; don’t send them to school, as they will pass the virus around. Make sure your child wraps up warm and drinks plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Speak to a pharmacist who can recommend appropriate treatments to relieve symptoms. Hygiene is an important way to prevent the spread of flu, so encourage your child to sneeze and cough into tissues, which should then be binned. They should be encouraged to wash their hands regularly, too, to keep the virus as contained as possible.

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