A flu alert for London children was issued today as it emerged that fewer than one in five two and three-year-olds have been vaccinated.
The 19 per cent immunisation rate for the capital for pre-school children is only half of that achieved in the rest of the country.
Problems were caused in November when about a quarter of supplies of the nasal vaccine that is given to children were delayed by manufacturing problems.
Since the start of winter, 23 flu outbreaks have been reported in London, the lowest in the country, mostly affecting schools.
Doctors are concerned because children are regarded as “super spreaders” of the virus due to poor hand hygiene.
Fourteen people died from flu on intensive care units last week and there have been 58 deaths across the UK since the end of September.
Public Health England, which had aimed to vaccinate a record 25 million people, was unable to say whether any of the deaths were in London or involved children.
It is known that about 150 children up to the age of four have been admitted to intensive care units across the UK in the past three-and-a-half months.
Children up to the age of four admitted to intensive care units across the UK with flu in the past three-and-a-half months
Hospital admissions to intensive care for flu have increased by 20 per cent in London in the last week, while overall hospitalisation rates for flu increased by six per cent. Professor Paul Plant, PHE London regional director, said: “Flu is starting to have an impact in London but it can be prevented by getting the vaccine, which is still available at GP surgeries.
“Flu can be serious and even deadly for very young children so parents should make sure their toddlers are vaccinated. Current evidence suggests the vaccine is a good match for the main strain of flu that is circulating.”
Dr Vin Diwakar, regional medical director for NHS London, said: “Our message is simple — the flu season is here and it can be dangerous for children.
“A quick, painless nasal spray from a GP can help little ones fight off the flu and keep safe. I strongly encourage parents to book the free vaccine today.”
The flu season begun earlier this year, compared with last year, and GP consultations for “influenza-like illness” are higher. Last year, about 45 per cent of pre-school children were vaccinated in England. The free vaccine reduced the risk of children contracting flu by almost half.
Pre-school children are vaccinated in GP surgeries, while primary school children receive it in schools.
Last week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was “unacceptable” that uptake rates were lower than last year and threatened to consider compulsory vaccination. “There is no excuse for complacency,” he said.