For the first time all primary school children will be offered the flu vaccine for free.

The health service in England has prepared for its largest ever flu protection drive, with around 25 million people being offered the the flu vaccine.

And for the first time the offer of the vaccine has been extended to all primary school aged children, an extra 600,000 children.

As well as school children, the NHS is also set to provide free vaccines to 2 and 3 year olds, those with underlying health conditions, pregnant women and older adults (aged 65 years and over).

It is only in the past six years the flu vaccine has been offered to healthy children, via a nasal spray, and this year marks the first time it will be available to all year groups at primary school across the UK.

The flu programme was extended to children because they are more likely to spread the virus between themselves and potentially on to older, more vulnerable family members.

Primary pupils can have the vaccine in school, while the other groups can use pharmacies and GPs.

People not in one of the target groups can pay privately to be vaccinated if they would like to receive it.

 

Professor Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director at Public Health England (PHE), urged parents to ensure their children received the vaccine.

“Every winter there is always the threat of a bad flu season. Flu is a serious illness and can even be deadly for the most vulnerable of our population.

“This year, more vaccines are available and every primary school child will be offered a flu vaccine,” she continued.

“Children are ‘super spreaders’ of flu. Flu vaccination not only protects the children but it also protects other more vulnerable members of the community from a potentially horrible illness.

“If you or your child are in an eligible group, make sure you get a flu vaccine. It’s the best defence we have against an unpredictable virus.”

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The health service is preparing for their largest ever flu vaccine programme [Photo: Getty]

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Professor Stephen Powis, National Medical Director at NHS England, explained that some people underestimate the dangers of flu.

“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.”

 

In the UK it is estimated that an average of 600 people a year die from complications of flu. In some years it is estimated that this can rise to over 10,000 deaths.

Britain sees the annual flu season run from about October to March or April, with most cases of flu occurring between December and February.

The NHS says the symptoms of flu are generally more severe and last longer than those of a common cold. The fever also develops more suddenly and is usually higher than with a cold.

The most common symptoms of flu are: a sudden high temperature, severe headache, general aches and pains, tiredness and weakness, shivering and chills. These symptoms might also be accompanied by a sore throat, runny nose, chesty cough and difficulty sleeping.

Medical experts say it is the complications of flu that are particularly dangerous. The most common complication is a bacterial chest infection, which can develop into pneumonia, but other complications include middle ear infections, septic shock, meningitis, and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain.)