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Flu vaccine: How and where can I get this winter’s jab free of charge?

Many may get a free jab: over-65s, children, health workers, pregnant women, animal workers

When will people be able to get a flu vaccine in GP surgeries?
GPs are expected to start giving out influenza vaccines to people aged 80 and over on October 4th – that's Monday. The jab will be given to this age group alongside the Covid booster vaccine. Dr Eoghan De Barra, consultant in infectious diseases at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, says the data so far does not suggest any increase in side effects or impact on efficacy of either vaccine when they are administered at the same visit. It is, however, recommended that the inoculations are given in different arms, to reduce soreness.

It isn’t clear whether enough flu vaccines have arrived in Ireland yet for the 65-to-79 age group and younger vulnerable people, although health experts aren’t concerned about supplies at this stage.

“There is no evidence that influenza is circulating in Ireland at present, so there’s plenty of time for people to get their vaccine. GPs have not yet been able to order the vaccine recommended for those aged two to 17 years,” says Dr Nuala O’Connor, clinical lead at the Irish College of General Practitioners.

Who is entitled to a free flu vaccine?
There is a long list of people who can get a flu vaccine for free. They include residents of nursing homes, anyone aged 65 years and over, children aged between two and 17, healthcare workers, pregnant women, carers who are working in other people's homes, household contacts of people with underlying conditions, and people in regular contact with pigs, poultry or waterfowl.

Are there any indications from other parts of the world whether the flu will be particularly debilitating this year?
Dr De Barra says that, so far, there have been low rates of flu globally compared with previous years, probably because of the measures in place to control Covid. "There is concern that, following a period of very little flu, we might see a rebound impact on health, as there would be a greater susceptible population," adds De Barra, who is a senior lecturer in the department of international health and tropical medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

How effective will the flu vaccine be for the 2021-22 season?
The jab's effectiveness varies from year to year among different age and risk groups, and according to the strains of the virus in the flu vaccine, the Health Service Executive says. The HSE will launch its seasonal flu-vaccine campaign on Monday.

The inoculation usually reduces the risk of infection by between 40 and 60 per cent. It also reduces the severity of illness and complications that could lead to hospitalisation.

Because flu strains change from year to year, and the antibodies that protect you decline over time, vulnerable people are advised to get the vaccine every year. This year’s jab provides protection against the four strains of flu most likely to be circulating according to the World Health Organisation.

Is there concern that some people might get the flu and a breakthrough Covid-19 infection at the same time, and could one infection make the other worse?
"Those most at risk from severe Covid are also most at risk from flu. Coinfection with Covid and flu is a concern. Laboratory research suggests flu infection might enhance infectivity of Covid," says De Barra.

Globally, however, the rate of confirmed coinfection with flu and Covid is believed to be less than 1 per cent. “It has been far lower in Ireland, but it would certainly be preferable to protect people from both with vaccination,” he says.

If I am not entitled to a free flu vaccine, how can I get one?
Many workplaces offer the vaccine to their employees, and even during the Covid-19 pandemic some workers went into their offices to get their flu jabs. GPs and pharmacies will also schedule flu-vaccine appointments for anyone who isn't entitled to a free shot.

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