Covid-19 booster vaccines which protect against the Omicron strain will be available for the first time from today as the annual roll out of the flu jab also gets under way.
As Ireland faces in to a winter of a potential “twindemic” – a surge in Covid-19 and flu – eligible people are being urged to avail of the vaccines which can be given at the same time.
The new updated Covid-19 booster vaccine, one of which protects against the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 strain –currently dominant here – will be available along with another new jab targeting the BA.2 form of the variant.
For people aged 65 and older as well as those aged 12 and over, who are very immunocompromised, a third booster shot will be on offer.
The HSE said the flu vaccine will be available free to recommended groups, including people aged 65 or over, healthcare workers, children aged two to 17, pregnant women and people with certain long-term conditions which put them at greater risk from complications if they catch the virus.
Dr Aparna Keegan, a specialist in public health medicine in the HSE, said: “This winter, both the flu and Covid-19 viruses are expected to circulate. It is very important that all those who are invited get both their free flu vaccine and Covid-19 vaccine.
“Flu and Covid-19 are caused by different viruses but both can cause serious illness. The flu vaccine does not protect against Covid-19.
“That is why it is important that if you have had a Covid-19 vaccine you should still get your free flu vaccine. Both flu and Covid-19 vaccines will be available from participating GPs and pharmacies and can be given at the same time.”
From October 17, the children’s flu nasal spray vaccine will also be available free for all children aged two to 17 years from GPs and pharmacies.
For children aged five to 11, who have not had their primary Covid-19 vaccination, and for those with a weak immune system and are due a booster dose, appointments are available at HSE vaccination centres by logging on to the HSE website.
Welcoming the news, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said that 15 vaccination centres across the country are also continuing to provide Covid-19 primary vaccines as well as second and third boosters during the winter.
“We know that vaccines offer good protection from both Covid-19 and seasonal flu and I urge everyone eligible to avail of this opportunity as soon as possible.”
Covid-19 vaccines are also still being rolled out to people who have not availed of it so far during the pandemic or are becoming eligible on age grounds.
People should leave a gap of four months between Covid-19 vaccine.