Provision of the free nasal flu vaccine may be extended to teenagers due to low take-up among the target group of younger children.
With uptake rates at just 20 per cent among children aged two to 12, consideration is being given to making the vaccine available to older children, according to former Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) president Ray Walley.
Mr Walley, a north Dublin GP, said discussions were ongoing between the HSE, the IMO and the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) about making use of supplies by providing the vaccine to children aged up to 18 years.
While no decisions have been made, he said: “It we don’t get the take-up we need among the target group, access may need to be expanded.”
About 600,000 doses of live vaccine were ordered for children aged two to 12 under the new programme, announced by former minister for health Simon Harris last May.
Only 122,000 of these doses have been administered since October, but the HSE has said there may be a time lag between the time GPs administer the vaccine and a claim being submitted.
Expiring in January
About 450,000 doses have been distributed but unused doses will start expiring in January if not administered by then.
Dr Walley said GPs were “shocked” at the lack of demand for the new vaccine, which he described as a “no-brainer” due to its proven efficacy and safety in other countries.
“It’s safe and effective, it’s been in use internationally for almost 20 years and it’s easy to take, with no needle involved. The vaccine protects children, and it protects others who might be at risk if children passed on a flu infection.”
There have been 41 deaths of children due to flu in the past decade in Ireland, and almost 5,000 hospitalisations.
While flu has yet to circulate in the community this winter, it is likely to cause major disruption when it does. Anyone showing flu-like symptoms such as cough or fever – which are also Covid-19 symptoms – is required to quarantine pending a test, along with their contacts.