Last winter, 81 per cent of people aged 65 and over had a flu jab. But just 22 per cent of children under the age of two got a jab, along with just 49 per cent of other eligible children.
Children are at extra risk this year, because they have built up less immunity to flu, as a result of lockdowns and social distancing last winter, scientists have warned.
The Government had made preparations to roll out Covid vaccinations to children aged between 12 and 17 after adults are vaccinated.
But the idea has met growing reluctance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which is expected to make a formal recommendation later this summer.
New research has revealed children have just a two in a million chance of death from Covid, with just 25 deaths among under-18s in England in the first year of the pandemic.
On Thursday, Sir Andrew Pollard, the scientist behind the AstraZeneca vaccine, said: “We should not yet roll out Covid-19 vaccination to otherwise healthy children.”
Writing in the British Medical Journal, the scientist highlighted data showing risks of heart problems linked to young people receiving the Pfizer jab, saying jabs could not be recommended unless it was clear that benefits outweighed the risks.
In an opinion piece with fellow University of Oxford scientists, he said healthy children should also not be given jabs while vaccines were in short supply across the world for adults, who are far more likely to die of Covid.
On Friday, new research will be handed to the JCVI, which shows 251 people under the age of 18 in England were admitted to intensive care with Covid-19 during the first year of the pandemic – meaning a one in 50,000 chance of admission. Of those, 91 per cent were suffering from an underlying health condition. A linked study concluded that 25 children and young people had died as a result of Covid-19 in England, equating to an absolute risk of death of approximately two in a million.
Higher risks were found in those with underlying health problems and obesity. Those with complex medical problems and neurodisability were at the greatest risk.
The study will be considered by the JCVI before it makes recommendations, which could mean jabs are recommended for the most clinically vulnerable children.
Researchers said the findings were “reassuring”.
Professor Russell Viner, from the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, and lead author of two of the papers, said: “These new studies show that the risks of severe illness or death from SARS-CoV-2 are extremely low in children and young people.”
Professor Anthony Harnden, the JCVI deputy chairman, told The Telegraph the flu jab programme would be more crucial this year than ever, in protecting children and the wider population.
He said: “With flu vaccines and children there is a mixture of both direct and indirect benefits.
“Children can get really sick from flu, and we are at risk of a particularly bad flu season this year, so there is a really strong reason to protect them directly.
“Children are also one of the main transmitters of flu within the wider population, so that is an additional reason to vaccinate them; it also protects everyone, especially the most vulnerable.”