Around two in five toddlers have been vaccinated against flu as part of a new mass immunisation programme, figures have shown.
Since the end of September last year, 42.4% of two-year-olds and 39.1% of three-year-olds in England have been vaccinated, according to Public Health England (PHE).
In the past the seasonal flu jab was only available to certain groups of people including the over-65s, pregnant women and people with a serious medical condition.
But in 2012 NHS officials announced plans to extend the vaccination programme to include all children aged two to 16 - to be given the flu vaccination through a nasal spray.
Experts said that healthy children are among those who are least likely to develop complications from being infected by flu, but their close contact with each other means they are more likely to transmit the virus to one another and other vulnerable people.
The mass immunisation programme is estimated to lead to 11,000 fewer hospital admissions and 2,000 fewer deaths every year.
So far the programme has been rolled out to include two and three-year-olds. In the next flu season other age groups will be included until all children aged two to 16 receive the vaccination.
Experts at PHE said the level of uptake among toddlers was “encouraging”.
The latest statistics also show 39.2% of pregnant women in England have been given the flu jab since September 30 last year
Just over half of those under 65 who are invited to receive the jab because they are deemed to be “at risk” have been immunised. And 72.6% of over 65s have been vaccinated.
PHE’s flu expert Professor Nick Phin said: “Our ultimate aspiration is 100% vaccine coverage for the at risk groups, but we’re greatly encouraged that figures for the at risk groups, including over 65s, are similar to those achieved in previous years. In particular uptake of flu vaccine in pregnant women remains high, especially when compared to 2011/12. These figures compare favourably with other European countries.
“This is the first time all children aged two and three years have been offered protection against flu, using a newly available nasal spray flu vaccine, which will ultimately be made available to all children aged two to 16 years of age.
“The level of uptake is very encouraging given the considerable structural change that the health system has undergone and when compared with other vaccination introductions.”
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