Free nasal flu vaccine to be offered to all children from next week

The Health Service Executive expressed concern that low uptake of vaccines could be contributing to increased pressure on hospitals

All children between the age of two and 17 will be offered a free flu vaccine under new measures being rolled out by the the HSE.

The HSE and Department of Health have written to pharmacists around the country informing them of the plans, which will see a wider cohort of younger people given access to the nasal flu vaccine.

The letter states that “the Department of Health has advised the HSE to extend the cohort eligible for the free HSE nasal flu vaccine to all children aged 2-17 years”.

“From December 4th, 2023, the HSE are advising all participating GPs and pharmacies to offer the free nasal spray flu vaccine to all children aged 2-17 for the remainder of the 2023/24 flu season.”

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Prior to this, only children aged 2 to 12 years and at-risk children aged 13-17 years were eligible for the free flu vaccine.

According to the most recent information available from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) influenza activity is stable, while respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) circulation remains at high levels. Hospitalised cases of RSV continue to increase with the highest rates in those aged less than one year old, followed by the 1-4 year age group. RSV causes coughs and colds and is the main cause of bronchiolitis in young children.

The flu vaccine is also recommended for people over 65, health care workers, residents of nursing homes, people with a chronic illness and pregnant women amongst others.

There is concern about a rise of flu and RSV cases ahead of the festive period, with health authorities keen to push for a greater level of vaccination particularly amongst at-risk groups.

The number of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases increased by 36 per cent the week before last compared with the previous week.

In that period, some 284 people were hospitalised with the virus, as bad as at any point last winter.

The Health Service Executive expressed concern that low uptake of vaccines could be contributing to increased pressure on hospitals.

Uptake of the flu vaccine so far this winter is 59 per cent among those aged 70 and over, 18 per cent in 50 to 69 year-olds and just 9.5 per cent in the other eligible group, children aged two to 12.

Just 11.5 per cent of healthcare staff have availed of a Covid-19 booster, while 24.3 per cent have received the flu vaccine, according to recently published figures.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times