Tuesday 18 December 2018

Extra stocks of flu jab ordered amid fears of winter epidemic

Vital protection: People over 65 urged to have flu jab. Photo: PA
Vital protection: People over 65 urged to have flu jab. Photo: PA

Mark O'Regan

Additional stocks of the seasonal flu vaccine have been ordered by the HSE amid mounting fears of an epidemic this winter.

Some 850,000 doses of the vaccine have been purchased - the same number as last year. However, a "contingency" supply of 100,000 doses have also been bought which the Executive "expect to draw down."

It comes amid reports that the vaccination may fail to protect the elderly.

A new report from the NHS in the UK found pensioners who had the jab - fared no better than those who did not - last year.

The findings also point out that the vaccine in use there last winter had "zero effect" among the over 65s.

Overall, protection rates were far higher among children, with 66pc protection, the figures show.

The vaccine currently being distributed to GPs and pharmacists is between 40pc and 60pc effective, and may have had little or no effect in keeping older age groups safe from the illness.

Now, amid growing concern that Ireland faces a heavy flu season this winter, the HSE says those over 65 should ignore the findings, urging all those eligible for the jab to avail of it.

Health officials are increasingly anxious as to how hospitals will cope if patterns seen in Australia are replicated here

The country has just battled the worst flu season for almost two decades.

It experienced a surge on cases of the A(H3N2) strain, which poses a particular risk to older people. This is the same strain that was prevalent in Ireland last winter.

This strain particularly affects the old, leading to higher hospital admissions.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Dr Mai Mannix, Director of Public Health, says the risk of death is real - particularly among the elderly.

This is because their immune system is weaker than younger age groups.

She stressed older people with a serious pre-existing condition are at increased risk.

"We very much encourage people over 65 to get it because in the normal run of events they benefit greatly.

"Most years, particularly among those over 65, people die from the flu. And anyone with a chronic medical condition is more vulnerable.

"But there is evidence the vaccine can prevent deaths. A combination of age - as well as a serious medical condition - puts people in older age groups at increased risk.

"Influenza associated mortality are significantly reduced in older people who have been vaccinated.

"While the protection elderly adults obtain from flu vaccination is less than for healthy young adults, a yearly flu vaccination is still the best protection currently available against the flu.

"Those at risk include people aged 65 years and older, adults and children with a long-term medical condition," said Dr Mannix.

Sunday Independent

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