Parents have been urged by the NHS to get their children vaccinated amid a rise in severe cases of flu in children under five.
Figures from NHS England reveal that flu hospitalizations are almost 20 times higher compared to the same period last year.
This week, 230 children in the age group were hospitalized with the disease, compared to 12 at the same time last year.
Over the past six weeks, hundreds more have been admitted to hospital with the infection.
To cope with this increase, the NHS is writing to 800,000 parents across the UK, urging them to have their children vaccinated before Christmas.
Uptake among children aged two to three is down 9% from last year, with just 35% in the age group receiving the vaccine.
Pregnant women have been advised to get vaccinated as vaccination rates are falling, with 29.6% vaccinated this year compared to 34.4% last year.
NHS National Director of Immunizations and Testing Steve Russell said: ‘With nearly 18 million shots already given, our flu vaccination program continues to make great strides in protecting the public, but it is essential to ensure that no group falls behind.
“Young children, whose health can of course be affected by the disease, can also spread the flu to other vulnerable family members, so we encourage parents to consider getting the flu shot in thousands of sites available before the Christmas period.”
Children born between September 1, 2018 and August 31, 2020 are eligible for a free flu shot, as are pregnant women.
Professor Sir Stephen Powis, National Medical Director of the NHS, said: ‘It’s very encouraging to see good flu vaccination already, but as we get through winter and spend more time indoors , respiratory diseases are becoming more prevalent, so it is vital that we do all we can to protect ourselves and others.
“Flu during pregnancy can lead to complications and evidence suggests it could lead to your baby being born prematurely. Young children can also be at risk, especially if they have long-term health conditions, and we have seen an increase in hospitalizations in recent weeks.
“So our message to pregnant women and parents of young children is that it’s not too late to ask for this lifesaving protection.”
The total number of people hospitalized with the flu jumped 40% in the past week.
Figures from NHS England show an average of 482 patients a day were in hospital with the flu last week, up from 344 the previous week.
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