The Chief Medical Officer, Public Health England (PHE) and NHS England are urging people who are offered the flu vaccine, including those who are most at risk, and all children aged two and three (as of September 1 2013) to protect themselves from flu this winter by ensuring they get vaccinated against the virus.
For the first time, a nasal spray vaccine will be offered to healthy two and three year old children. This marks the first step in an extension to the national flu vaccination programme, which will eventually include yearly vaccination of all two to 16-year-olds.
A study published this week by PHE and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, found children are key "spreaders" of the flu virus. Young children aged two and three will be offered the nasal spray vaccine to protect them against flu, as their close contact with each other means they are more likely to transmit the virus to other more vulnerable groups - including infants and older people.
A national advertising campaign is also being launched today by PHE to encourage parents of two to three year old children, as well as people aged 65 and over, adults and children with long term health conditions and pregnant women, to take up the offer of vaccination.
Almost 800 people were admitted to intensive care with complications of flu last year and each winter hundreds of thousands of people see their GP and tens of thousands are hospitalised because of flu.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies said: "Severe winter flu and its complications can make people really ill and can kill - you are eleven times more likely to die from flu if you are in a clinical at risk group. I urge everyone who is eligible to get the vaccine and help protect themselves and their families this winter."
"This year we are offering healthy two and three year olds a nasal spray vaccine to not only protect healthy children from flu, but to help to reduce the spread of flu and protect others, including younger brothers and sisters, grandparents and those who are at increased risk of becoming seriously ill from flu."
Dr Paul Cosford, Medical Director and Director for Health Protection at PHE, said: "For the majority of people, flu is an unpleasant, but not life-threatening illness. But it can be very serious for older people and those groups at risk of developing complications including people with weakened immune systems, as well as those with underlying conditions such as neurological disorders, liver, lung or renal disease, heart problems or diabetes, and pregnant women. Vaccination remains the best way to protect against the potential serious harm from flu this winter."
For information on how to get your child vaccinated, contact your local GP surgery.
Hear more about the flu virus and how the flu vaccine works in Dr Sarah Jarvis' video