AT-RISK groups have been urged to get the flu vaccine as new figures show a fall in take-up of the potentially life-saving jab by people aged 65 and over last winter.
The proportion of over-65s who had the vaccine last year fell to 56.5pc compared with 60pc during the previous year's season when public awareness was heightened over the swine flu pandemic.
Dr Darina O'Flanagan, head of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, told the Irish Independent that while the vaccine is not 100pc effective it is the best protection at-risk groups have.
Most flu deaths go unreported but two winters ago the number of deaths linked to the virus was in the region of 800.
"A lot of people who are hit with flu, particularly if they are elderly and vulnerable, can get hit with exacerbations of chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, heart attacks or strokes. They can get admitted to hospital for these conditions and never get a flu test," said Dr O'Flana-gan.
Pharmacists are to be allowed vaccinate adults. The cost for private patients ranges from €20 to €30. At-risk patients aged 18-64 years, who do not have a medical card, are likely to pay around €15.
The availability of the vaccine at pharmacists means GPs will be under pressure to bring down their fees.
The HSE provides the flu and pneumococcal vaccine free of charge for all those in the at-risk groups.
The vaccine and consultation are free for those with a medical card or GP visit card.
At-risk groups include people aged 65 and older, anyone over six months old with a long-term illness requiring regular medical follow-up or those with lower immunity and pregnant women.
Flu symptoms develop over a few hours and include high temperature, sore muscles, cough, headache and sore throat.