My daughter is an October baby. This meant chilly outings in giant padded snowsuits (which held her tiny, loose limbed form in a stiff scarecrow like pose) in the early days and means she’ll be an older one in her school year. What I didn’t appreciate until a few days ago was that this also means she’ll miss out on the NHS flu vaccine this year as only children who were 2 years old on the 31/08/2019 are eligible. Her brother however, will be lining up with his reception class buddies to have his this week.
The flu ‘sniff’ has been given to children since 2013 when it was piloted in several different regions of the country. Since then it has been rolled out to become a national programme and is now given to all children aged from 2 -10 years. As we all know, children are an excellent snotty, bubbling reservoir for viruses over the winter months and it has been found that the nasal flu vaccine, as well as providing protection to the individual, also helps to reduce the transmission of the flu virus within a community.
Flu is a highly contagious, thoroughly unpleasant illness causing fevers, cough, muscle aches and lethargy (as well as diarrhoea and vomiting in some cases) that can be complicated by pneumonia and nasty ear infections in children and rarely by life threatening conditions involving the brain and heart. In very young babies and children with conditions that suppress the immune system, complications are a particular worry.
The nasal flu vaccine is what is called a live, attenuated vaccine. That is, a specially modified virus that is too weak to cause the flu but which stimulates an antibody response, protecting the individual by either preventing the flu or by weakening the effects of it. It is given with a special syringe that makes a fine mist in the nose. A child receives 0.1ml of this mist in each nostril and it takes seconds to administer. Most children are able to cope with this really well but for those that decide they want their second nostril to be left well alone, half the dose should still be effective.
After the vaccine some children may feel a little bit under the weather for a day or two but this is usually short lived and importantly, they cannot contract the flu from the vaccine. It was found that children under 2 years had an increased rate of complications to the nasal flu vaccine which is why the programme starts at 2 years of age. Most children can safely receive the vaccine with the exceptions being those who are severely immunosuppressed and those whom have had anaphylaxis ( a severe allergic reaction)to the vaccine previously or to components of the vaccine. Your doctor will usually have discussed this with you ahead of time if you are in one of these groups. Children with egg allergy can have the flu sniff unless they were admitted to intensive care due to anaphylaxis to egg, in which case a very low egg protein injectable vaccine will be advised. Children under two years who have chronic health conditions putting them in an ‘at risk’ group for flu will also usually be offered an injectable vaccine.
On the day if your child is wheezy, has a high temperature or has an extremely blocked nose, the vaccine should be delayed until they are better. Some school nursing teams will offer catch up sessions or you may be asked to arrange it with your GP. Minor coughs and colds shouldn’t stop the vaccine being administered though.
This year then, I’ll be relying on my son and his cohort to provide protection to my daughter by reducing the amount of flu flying about. That’s what good brothers are for!