Varadkar urges flu vaccine uptake among at-risk groups

Medical staff should have to tell patients whether they have been vaccinated, says Minister

Leo Varadkar appealed to people in at-risk groups – over 65s, pregnant women, people with chronic diseases and healthcare staff – to get the vaccine, given the rise in cases of the disease since Christmas. File photograph: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire

Leo Varadkar appealed to people in at-risk groups – over 65s, pregnant women, people with chronic diseases and healthcare staff – to get the vaccine, given the rise in cases of the disease since Christmas. File photograph: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire

 

Medical staff should have to tell patients if they are not vaccinated against flu because of the health risks involved, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has suggested.

While Ireland had not gone down the road of other countries where flu vaccination is mandatory for specific groups, there was a case for requiring healthcare staff to tell patients whether or not they were vaccinated, the Minister said.

He appealed to people in at-risk groups – over 65s, pregnant women, people with chronic diseases and healthcare staff – to get the vaccine, given the rise in cases of the disease since Christmas.

Cases of flu are running at three times the baseline level, he said, but the disease was preventable. Almost 500,000 people have been vaccinated this winter and another 250,000 doses are ready.

Dr Darina O’Flanagan, director of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, said flu will circulate at elevated levels for the next 6-8 weeks before cases decline. Many of those already hospitalised were in at-risk groups but had not been vaccinated, she said.

So far this winter, 76 patients have been hospitalised for flu and four have died, according to the HPSC’s latest weekly report. It says the strains of flu seen to date this season are genetically similar to those included in this year’s vaccines.

Symptoms of flu include high temperature, sore muscles, dry cough, headache and sore throat. Flu comes on more suddenly than the common cold, which tends to involve a runny nose and a normal temperature.

The medical advice for people who get flu is to stay at home, drink plenty of fluids and use over-the-counter drugs such as paracetamol to ease symptoms.