At-risk groups urged to get flu vaccine


THE HEALTH Service Executive has urged at-risk groups to get the flu vaccine as figures show uptake fell among pensioners last year.

This season’s flu vaccine protects against three common flu strains that the World Health Organisation (WHO) expects to be circulating this year, the HSE said.

The virus strains in the vaccine have changed since last year.

Just 56.5 per cent of those over 65 with medical or GP cards received their free flu vaccine in the 2011/2012 season. This was below the 60 per cent uptake the previous year and well below the WHO target of 75 per cent.

The vaccine and consultation is free for those in the at risk groups with a medical card or GP visit card. The HSE also provides the vaccine for free to at risk groups at GPs and pharmacies but they may have to pay a consultation fee.

Dr Brenda Corcoran, head of the HSE’s national immunisation office, said every year many people in at risk groups did not get vaccinated and were not protected.

“The vaccine reduces infection and associated illnesses and hospitalisation. Flu is very infectious and can cause potentially serious illnesses especially for older people, those who have a chronic illness and pregnant women,” she said.

The HSE has identified five at risk groups: people aged over 65, pregnant women, nursing home and long-stay facility residents, children on long-term aspirin therapy and anyone with long-term illnesses such as diabetes.

It has urged frontline healthcare workers to get the vaccine, both to protect themselves and to prevent spreading flu to vulnerable patients.

The vaccine is available to healthcare workers for free from their occupational health department.

Dr Corcoran hoped the increased access at pharmacies would encourage more people to receive the flu jab.

Last year there were errors in flu vaccinations given by pharmacists to some 489 patients, mainly caused by incorrect measuring instructions given to some pharmacists during training.

However the Irish Pharmacy Union has compelled all pharmacists offering the dosage to undergo retraining so they will know what to do, Dr Corcoran said. She clarified that everyone aged over six months received the same size dosage of the vaccine.

Last year a flu outbreak claimed the lives of seven elderly residents at a Co Donegal nursing home. Dr Corcoran said the strain that claimed the lives in Donegal was not contained in the vaccine last year. The annual flu vaccine is a scientifically based prediction of the ones the WHO expects to be most common, she said.

“Even a poor match is better than nothing and we estimate effectiveness at 70 per cent or better,” she said. It was “unusual” that the flu season kept going until April or May last year. People receiving the vaccine now would be covered for the whole year.

Dr Corcoran said there was no link between the current flu vaccine and narcolepsy. The Pandremix swine flu vaccine issued in 2009 and 2010 resulted in at least 25 cases of narcolepsy in Irish children. She said the current flu vaccine was “completely different”.