Grandparents are being put at risk as parents shun flu vaccinations for their children.
With less than a month to go until Christmas, the NHS has revealed that fewer than one-in-five school age youngsters have had the nasal spray immunisation so far.
This year the NHS has dramatically expanded free flu vaccinations to cover children in school year four.
Health chiefs have said the lack of interest in vaccinations risks spreading infection over Christmas, when families get together.
Without the flu vaccination children are more likely to contract the flu at nursery or school and then spread the virus at a rapid rate, posing a particular risk to the elderly and other higher risk people.
Flu is not like a winter cold and can lead to serious complications, increasing the risk of death in older people and other vulnerable groups such as asthma sufferers, pregnant women and patients with heart, liver and lung complaints.
Professor Keith Willett, NHS England’s Medical Director for Acute Care, said: “Flu can be spread more easily by children, especially to vulnerable relatives such as older grandparents, those with heart or lung conditions and pregnant family members.
“With less than a month until family gatherings over the festive season, there’s still time for parents to get their ‘super-spreader’ children vaccinated to help protect elderly relatives over Christmas and before the flu season traditionally reaches its peak.
“Last year millions of people missed out on their free vaccination and yet it’s one simple, common sense step to help us all stay healthy this winter.”
Dr Paul Cosford, Medical Director, PHE said: “The vaccine is the best protection there is against flu, which causes on average 8,000 deaths a year – many of which occur in the winter months.
“The nasal spray vaccine last year reduced children’s risk of flu by 65% meaning they were less likely to spread it to relatives and others they come into close contact with.
“Over the next few weeks ahead of Christmas, we urge parents of eligible children aged two and three to book their vaccine via their GP or local pharmacy. Parents should also give consent for eligible school-aged children to receive the vaccine in school. It’s quick, easy and painless.”
NHS England and Public Health England are also calling on hundreds of thousands of front-line social care workers who have contact with numerous vulnerable people to take up the free flu vaccine.
For the first time the NHS is providing £10million to offer vaccination to registered residential, nursing and home care staff to help curb the spread of flu to elderly people in their care.
As well as protecting people, the investment will ease the pressures that a heavy outbreak of influenza could place on NHS services especially over the busy Christmas and New Year holiday period.