ONE million school kids are at risk of flu due to a shortage of vaccines, that threatens to pile pressure on the NHS this winter.
GPs have been told to prioritise the kids at greatest risk – as the flu season kicks in.
Health chiefs have blamed the shortage of vaccines on the manufacturer, AstraZeneca.
And they warned up to one million kids could be left unprotected – after a quarter of the vaccines were held back by testing problems.
As a result Public Health England has told schools to cancel vaccination sessions.
Vulnerable kids in at-risk groups – those suffering asthma for example – are being given the first of the nasal spray vaccines.
Next in line, will be children aged two and three – the age-group dubbed the ‘super-spreaders’, given the tendency to infect their families.
Sick kids get priority
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, said they are working to ensure kids get the vaccine as soon as possible.
“We are working with AstraZeneca and NHS England and Improvement to ensure that all eligible children get their flu vaccine as soon as possible,” she said.
“Children who have underlying medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to flu will be prioritised by GPs first.”
Officials said they hope the problem will be resolved by the end of December, before the flu season reaches it’s height.
Expert fears bad flu season
It comes as experts warn the early and severe flu season in the southern hemisphere could be be a sign of things to come here.
Prof Robert Dingwall, a public health expert from Nottingham Trent University, told The Sun Online: “The Australians had a very bad flu season and we should expect the same flu strain to appear here later this winter.
“Fortunately, it is a variant on the strain that was here last year, and the available vaccines should give good protection.”
He urged all those eligible and particularly those in at-risk groups – the elderly, babies, pregnant women and people with underlying illnesses – to ensure they are protected by having the flu jab.
While the delay affects the nasal spray given to children, it does not affect the adult vaccine delivered by injection, the NHS said.
The adult flu programme is underway, officials said, and PHE reminded all those over 65 as well as other at-risk groups to ensure they get their vaccine.
HOW TO PROTECT YOUR KIDS FROM FLU
FLU strikes millions of kids each year and it is almost impossible to avoid completely.
Dr Jarvis advises parents ensure they take their kids to get the free NHS flu vaccine, as soon as possible.
And in the meantime, she said there are hygiene steps we can all take to avoid the virus.
She told The Sun Online: “Encouraging everyone around you who sneezes to use paper tissues, which they dispose of immediately in a bin (and then wash their hands) will help.
“All children from two years old to the end of primary school are now eligible for a free NHS flu vaccine.
“Kids are ‘super spreaders’ of flu – they pass it on far more efficiently than adults.
“And they’re far more prone to serious complications than healthy adults.
“The vaccine is given as a nasal spray rather than an injection in children – via your GP surgery or through their school if they’re at primary school.
“It really is the most effective way to protect them against flu.”
Dr Daniel Atkinson, GP Clinical Lead at Treated.com, also advises making sure your child is having a healthy diet.
He adds: “So with more dangers around in the air we breathe, it’s best to keep yours and your kids’ immune systems fighting fit.
“This means eating a healthy and balanced diet, with plenty of fruit and veg, and making sure you’re getting enough sleep.”
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Laurent Abuaf, country president AstraZeneca UK said: “We realise how important it is to deliver a full supply of vaccine to the NHS and are doing everything possible to minimise the delay of these affected batches.
“As part of our normal product release process, we need to repeat some tests before a portion of our vaccine supply can be released and delivered.
“It is paramount that all batches complete the testing process before they can be supplied, and we are working as fast as possible to achieve this.”
Last winter more than 5,500 people were admitted to hospital in England with flu and 1,692 died, The Times reports.