Parents encouraged to give Kent toddlers the flu spray
Thousands of children across Kent and Medway are not protected against the flu virus, it has been revealed.
A stark warning has been issued by health officials urging parents to make sure their little ones take the nasal spray, which is free to two and three-year-olds.
Across the whole of Kent and Medway, around 42,100 children are able to get the vaccine free of charge but only about 9,600 have taken the offer up.
In Medway alone, almost 1,600 toddlers have had the child-friendly immunisation, meaning more than 5,500 are not protected.
In the rest of Kent, almost 8,000 have taken the medicine - meaning a staggering 27,000 toddlers have not.
For younger patients the vaccine comes in the form of a nasal spray and it can help prevent the illness which may bring on symptoms such as a fever, stuffy nose, dry cough and sore throat.
The head of public health screening and immunisation for the county, Dr John Rodriguez, said: "It is important we protect young children from the flu virus and get them vaccinated now.
"Children can become very poorly if they catch flu and we know this can affect the wider family as parents or carers may have to take time off work to look after them.
"The nasal spray is safe and tailored each year to specific flu viruses - so please take up this free NHS offer.
"Protecting your child can stop flu spreading to other children and the family, especially babies and grandparents, who may be at higher risk from flu."
The medicine can be given to children by their GP or by a team of NHS staff who are working their way around schools to dose kids up in years one, two, three and four, who can also get the protection for free.
Kent County Council's director of public health, Andrew Scott-Clark, said: "It is particularly important that we reach parents and make sure children are protected as they can easily spread the illness among their friends and family.
"In the worst cases, seasonal flu can result in a stay in hospital, and it can even be fatal.
"Younger girls and boys can get the vaccine as a nasal spray rather than a jab but having one can make a huge difference."
Parents have been asked to make sure their children are dosed up by completing consent forms when they are asked to by their child's school.
Medway Council's director of public health, James Williams, said: "As the flu virus changes every year it is extremely important to get your annual vaccination to make sure you are protected against the latest strain.
"Getting the vaccination early is the best thing you can do to protect yourself, your family, friends and colleagues this winter."