Colette Cowan, CEO UL Hospitals Group receives the flu jab from occupational health nurse Mairead Lane
The HSE is urging people in at-risk groups to get vaccinated against influenza. Figures show that vaccine uptake rates in people aged 65 and over increased in Ireland last year.
Welcoming the findings, the HSE’s flu vaccine lead, Dr John Cuddihy, said that the flu vaccine is a lifesaver because flu can be a very serious and sometimes deadly disease, with potentially 1,000 flu related deaths in Ireland during a severe flu season.*
“Recent national uptake figures indicate that 68.5% of people aged 65 and over who hold a medical card or GP visit card received the flu vaccine during the 2018-2019 flu season, a substantial increase on last year when the uptake rate was 57.6%.
“People need to remember that flu causes severe illness and death in Ireland every year. That is why those who are most vulnerable to the complications of flu need to get vaccinated. The flu vaccine is the best defence against flu, yet every year many people in the at-risk groups fail to get vaccinated and so put themselves at risk of serious illness or even death.
“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, those with weakened immune systems and pregnant women. Seasonal flu vaccine can be given at any stage of pregnancy and also protects the baby. The flu vaccine cannot give you the flu as it does not contain any live flu virus and all those at risk should get vaccinated as soon as possible this year to make sure that they are protected.
“The symptoms of flu usually develop over a matter of a few hours and include a high temperature, sore muscles, dry cough, headache and severe fatigue or tiredness. Flu is different from the common cold, which tends to come on more gradually and usually includes a runny nose and a normal temperature.
“Flu is spread by coughing and sneezing so people should cover their nose and mouth with a tissue, disposing of the tissue as soon as possible and wash their hands with soap and water as soon as possible to help prevent the spread of flu.
“Anyone who gets flu should stay at home, rest, drink plenty of fluids and use over-the-counter flu remedies to ease symptoms. People in high-risk categories should contact their GP if they develop flu symptoms” said Dr Cuddihy.
The following groups of at-risk people should be vaccinated against seasonal influenza:
- Everyone aged 65 years and over
- Pregnant women
- Anyone over six months of age with a long term illness requiring regular medical follow-up such as chronic lung disease, chronic heart disease, diabetes, cancer or those with lower immunity due to disease or treatment
- Residents of nursing homes and other long stay facilities
- People who have physical or intellectual disabilities, as indicated
- Healthcare workers
- Carers of people in medical at-risk categories
- People in regular contact with pigs, poultry or water fowl.
It is important for all those in the at risk groups to be vaccinated again this year as the virus strains in the vaccine have changed since last year.
This year’s seasonal flu vaccine gives broader protection against flu than the vaccine used in previous years, because it protects against four of the common flu virus strains expected to be circulating this year based on advice from the World Health Organization. The flu vaccine used in previous seasons protected against three strains of the flu virus.
Seasonal flu vaccines are safe and have been given for more than 60 years to millions of people across the world. Reactions are generally mild and serious side effects are very rare.
Healthcare workers, including doctors, nurses, therapists and carers also need to get the seasonal flu vaccine every year. It is important that all those working in frontline healthcare protect themselves from getting the flu but also prevent the spread of flu to vulnerable patients.
HSE CEO Paul Reid said, “Substantial efforts were made by hospitals and Community Healthcare Organisations to encourage staff flu vaccine uptake levels and this has resulted in significant improvements in many of our hospitals and long term care facilities. This work needs to continue with renewed emphasis this flu season as the flu vaccine saves lives.
Minister for Health, Simon Harris said, “Vaccination remains the most effective means of preventing infection by seasonal influenza viruses”.
“We have seen improvement in vaccination rates among our healthcare staff in recent years but this still remains far too low. The vaccine is a lifesaver because flu can be a very serious and sometimes deadly disease.
"I would encourage all healthcare staff to avail of the flu vaccine and show leadership in this regard. By receiving the flu vaccine, you protect the vulnerable people in your care as well as yourself."
The HSE’s dedicated immunisation website - www.immunisation.ie - provides details on the annual flu vaccination, as well as the pneumococcal vaccine for over 65s and people in medical at-risk groups and Whooping Cough vaccine for pregnant women , along with answers to any questions people may have about flu. Information leaflets are available to download and are also available in GP surgeries, pharmacists and HSE Local Health Offices. See www.hse.ie/flu for more information. #YourBestShot