All under-16s in Britain may be offered a free flu vaccine this winter amid fears ‘really bad season’ will hit at same time as Covid
- The flu vaccine will be offered to an extra 4million under-16s for the first time
- An extra four million children will be offered the vaccine
- It comes amid fear about flu cases this winter, after record low cases last year
The flu vaccine programme may be expanded to all under-16s in the UK for the first time, it was claimed today.
Ministers fear this winter will be one of the worst flu seasons in years because very few people currently have immunity against it.
More than 25million people were offered the free jab last winter, including all over-50s, pregnant women and NHS workers.
Only children over the age of two and up to year seven were offered the vaccine, which is given to youngsters as a nasal spray.
It means another 4million children aged 13 to 16 will be eligible for the vaccine this winter, if the plans go ahead.
Department of Health bosses are yet to unveil the move, but The Telegraph claimed it would happen within weeks.
Children aged two to 16 will be offered the flu vaccine this autumn, marking the first time those aged 13 to 16 have been asked to get it. The vaccine is given to children through a nasal spray that is squirted up each nostril and takes up to two weeks to begin working
The number of people going into hospital with flu last winter dropped to record lows in England. Experts have linked the drop with Covid restrictions like social distancing and wearing face masks
Children face an ‘extremely low’ one in 500,000 risk of dying from the coronavirus, researchers have found.
In England, just 25 under-18s have died from Covid, which equates to around two in a million, experts said.
Young people with pre-existing medical conditions, like heart disease and cancer, and severe disability, which can include cerebral palsy and autism, have a higher chance of becoming seriously ill from the virus.
But the scientists – from three top British universities – said this risk is no higher then the risk from flu.
Teenagers, black and obese children were also at higher risk from dying with Covid but these numbers were still very low, they found.
Researchers said their findings – which were published in three separate papers today – will help inform vaccine and shielding policy for under-18s.
They will submit the studies to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the Department for Health and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The findings come amid a row over whether No10 should expand the vaccine roll-out to youngsters.
JCVI and SAGE advisers have previously voiced concerns about giving the jabs to children until more safety data was available.
The studies were led by researchers at University College London, the University of York and the University of Liverpool.
One of the studies is the first to determine the number of children who died from Covid rather than with the virus. It concluded that the virus killed 25 children in England.
The coronavirus contributed to 0.8 per cent of the 3,105 deaths in children from all causes in the first year of the pandemic.
One source told the newspaper: ‘We are worried we are in for a really bad flu season this year, so we are looking to expand the programme again, and to include all secondary school children, for the first time.’
Another said: ‘The orders went in some time ago, there is major concern about flu; much more worry about the impact of flu on children than there is about Covid on them.’
If all under-16s are offered the vaccine, it will make it the biggest influenza vaccine drive in British history.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘Further details of the winter flu vaccination programme will be set out in due course.’
They added No10 is gearing up for the flu season to ensure the NHS ‘can provide as many vaccines to people as possible to ensure they are protected’.
Covid restrictions have been in place since last March, which have stopped many people from catching common bugs and colds.
They also crushed the spread of flu last winter, meaning immunity within the population is lower than expected.
The biggest fear is the spike will come at the same time as the winter spike of Covid, which could cause havoc for the NHS.
For this reason, ministers are also planning for a booster vaccine campaign against coronavirus starting in the autumn.
NHS bosses are already gearing up to dish out top-up jabs to the most vulnerable at the same time as flu vaccines.
Flu is much more serious than a common cold. It kills around 20,000 people every year.
All children aged between two and 17 are already invited to get the vaccine if they have long-term health conditions, such as diabetes or heart problems.
The NHS says children under two who are high risk can get a vaccine.
Experts on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises ministers on inoculation drives, said last month the low flu rates are expected to ‘come back to bite us’.
Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the panel, said: ‘Flu could be potentially a bigger problem this winter than Covid.’
It comes as No10 is yet to make a decision on giving a Covid vaccine to under-18s.
Experts have warned against giving children the vaccine unless data shows it is very safe.
This is because youngsters face an extremely low risk of dying or falling seriously ill from the virus.
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