Devon’s far-reaching flu campaign to get young children vaccinated has been praised for increasing uptake.
Latest figures show that hundreds more youngsters aged two and three across the county had the nasal vaccination last winter than in previous years.
This was helped by a Devon NHS publicity campaign, in partnership with the parents of Sam Morrish, a three-year-old Newton Abbot boy who died after contracting flu.
The campaign featured a short film focusing on Monkey, Sam’s favourite cuddly toy, who called on parents to heed the warnings about flu.
Sam died from severe sepsis, which involves a dramatic reaction by the body's immune system to an infection. It can develop quickly, damaging vital organs.
His sepsis resulted from him getting common flu, and his parents Scott and Sue are keen for other children to avoid suffering the same fate.
To help publicise the importance of the flu vaccination for children, the Morrishes worked with the local NHS to create an unforgettable mini movie for Facebook that was seen by more than 150,000 people.
Monkey’s message was heard by thousands of parents, with many more young children receiving the vaccination than in previous winters.
The uptake increased from 40.2 percent of the two-year-old population in January 2017 to 45.8 percent in January 2018.
There was a similar increase for three-year-olds, up from 42.6 percent in January 2017 to 47.3 percent in January 2018.
Sue Morrish said: “We’re really pleased that the campaign featuring Sam’s Monkey has been so successful. It seemed to inspire a lot of support, as well as a lot of thought and action from parents.
“I’m really grateful to everyone who shared the video to spread the message about quick and simple needle-free vaccinations against flu being available for children.
“The effects of flu can sometimes be very serious, so we urge all parents to consider having their children vaccinated during the flu season. I would love to see if we can get the take-up figures even higher this winter.”
The video featuring Sam and Monkey was also shared widely via Twitter, as well as appearing on local TV, radio and in newspapers, and was posted on Devon’s two NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).
The average number of visitors to the CCGs’ flu webpages increased from around 50 per day to more than 250 – a 400 percent increase.
Shelagh McCormick, a Devon GP, said: “The fact that the campaign has had such a positive effect is wonderful news.
“Flu can be a very unpleasant illness for children, with potentially serious complications, including bronchitis and pneumonia.
“For children with long-term health conditions such as asthma and diabetes, it is especially important that they are vaccinated because they are more likely to get complications from flu.”
Devon’s GP practices are now gearing up to start their flu campaigns next month. The children's flu vaccine is offered as a yearly nasal spray squirted up each nostril of young children. It is quick, painless, and works even better in children than the injected flu vaccine.
The vaccine is absorbed very quickly. It will still work even if, after the vaccination, the child develops a runny nose, sneezes or blows their nose.
Vaccinating children also helps to protect other members of the community who are vulnerable to flu – for example, older people, babies, and pregnant women – because vaccinated children won’t pass the virus to other people.