The HSE has urged people in at-risk groups to get vaccinated against influenza. Flu can be a very serious illness, especially for people who are older or who have a long-term illness.
Based on advice from the World Health Organization (WHO), this year’s seasonal flu vaccine, available from GPs and pharmacists, protects against three common flu virus strains including the H1N1 (swine flu) strain which is still circulating this year.
Even if you received the vaccine last year, it is still important for all those in the at risk groups to be vaccinated again this year as immunity from the vaccine only lasts for up to twelve months and wanes over time.
The following groups of at-risk people need to be vaccinated against seasonal influenza:
* Everyone aged 65 years and over
* Anyone over six months of age with a long term illness requiring regular medical follow-up such as chronic lung disease, chronic heart disease or diabetes
* Pregnant women
* Those with lower immunity due to disease or treatment
* Children or teenagers on long-term aspirin therapy
* Residents of nursing homes and other long stay facilities
* Healthcare workers and carers
This year new regulations have been introduced by the Government to allow pharmacists to give the flu vaccine. Pharmacists will provide flu vaccine to anyone aged 65 and older under the HSE flu vaccination programme
Anyone with a Medical Card or GP Visit Card will not be charged to visit the doctor or pharmacist for the flu vaccine. GPs and pharmacists charge a consultation fee to administer the vaccine to patients without a Medical Card or GP Visit Card but the vaccine itself is provided free of charge, by the HSE, for all those in the at-risk groups.
Healthcare workers, including doctors, nurses, therapists and carers, need to get the seasonal flu vaccine every year. It is important that all those working in frontline healthcare protect themselves from getting the flu but also to prevent spreading the flu to vulnerable patients. The flu vaccine is available free to healthcare workers from their local Occupational Health department.
In addition to seasonal flu vaccination, some people in the at-risk groups may also need pneumococcal vaccine which is available free of charge from GPs. Pneumococcal vaccine is not required every year – most people only need to get it once, so those at risk should check with their General Practitioner. The seasonal flu vaccine is different from the Pandemrix vaccine, which was used during the swine flu pandemic. The HSE is currently investigating possible links between Pandemrix and the onset of narcolepsy in a small number of young people.
The HSE’s dedicated immunisation website - www.immunisation.ie - provides details on the annual flu vaccination and the pneumococcal vaccine, along with answers to any questions people may have about flu. Information leaflets are available to download. Information leaflets are also available in GP surgeries, pharmacists and HSE Local Health Offices.