Children aged between two and 12, and healthcare workers and other at-risk groups, are to be provided with free flu vaccine doses this autumn, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has announced.
The provision of special payments to GPs for Covid-19 consultations is to be extended, Mr Donnelly also said.
GPs will be paid €15 for administering the flu vaccine to adults and €20 for administering a nasal flu vaccine to children.
However, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) told its members that as part of the agreement with the Government there would be an additional €100 bonus payment for for every 10 adult patients vaccinated and €150 for every 10 children.
A €25 payment for triaging non-Covid patients which had been available to GPs will be ended from September 4th.
GPs will continue to receive the special payments until the end of December, but Mr Donnelly say he wants to continue the arrangement to March 31st.
The expansion of the flu vaccination programme, agreed by Cabinet on Tuesday, had been flagged previously.
Under the change, young children will have access to vaccination, using nasal spray rather than injection, for the first time. However, the doses will not be available under “the end of October”, according to Mr Donnelly.
Vaccines for adults in at-risk categories are subject to a “short delay” in delivery from the manufacturer but are likely to be available in “about two weeks,” he added.
"This delay affects all customers across the world, not just Ireland. It is caused by an administrative delay, and not by any issues in the manufacture or quality of the vaccine."
The doses for Ireland will be in the first batch of vaccine released, Mr Donnelly said.
“We know that early detection of Covid-19 cases is key in suppressing the disease in the community, even more so coming into winter, and so I’m glad this support will allow GPs to continue providing Covid-19 consultations free to their patients.”
Asked why the flu vaccine is not being provided to teenagers, aside from those in at-risk groups, the Department of Health said younger children were among the most at risk from influenza and the Minister’s focus was on the most vulnerable groups, among which the campaign will have the greatest impact.
Mr Donnelly said he was “glad this support will allow GPs to continue providing consultations free to their patients”.
“It’s very important that cost is not a barrier to anyone seeking testing, so I want to be clear that your telephone consultation with your GP to decide if you should be tested is free. The Covid-19 test as well as any hospital treatment you may need will also be free.”
The expanded flu vaccination programme will help protect society and the health service from any surge in Covid-19 cases occurring at the same time as a spike in flu infections, he said.
“The health service is entering a challenging winter period, in the midst of a global pandemic. It’s important that we make every effort collectively to limit the impact on the health service over the coming months.
“Limiting that impact and protecting the most vulnerable people in our society means that everyone who can get the flu vaccine should get it, and we are starting by making it accessible without charge to all in the at-risk groups. GPs, pharmacists and their staff have worked incredibly hard to support and care for their patients during this pandemic. The administration of the flu vaccine will be another crucial part of that work.
Under an agreement with the IMO last March, GPs were to be paid fees ranging from €25 to €75 depending on the particular service provided. There has been controversy over additional charges being levied on out-of-hours patients for Covid-19 consultations.