Sunday 8 December 2019

Low uptake of pneumonia jab threatens elderly

Free vaccine provides cover for two decades but is being snubbed

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Photo posed
Health Minister Simon Harris has vowed to make more hospital beds available

Eilish O'Regan and John Downing

A vaccine that can reduce the risk of suffering flu-related pneumonia has a low uptake among over-65s and people with long-term diseases.

A study found the uptake of the pneumococcal vaccine was as low as 36pc among older age groups, despite the HSE making the jab free for pensioners and at-risk groups.

The jab reduces the risk of pneumonia in older patients by around 45pc. A HSE spokeswoman said there were two pneumococcal vaccines available and uptake was around 90pc for babies at 24 months.

However, pneumonia is one of the biggest risks to the elderly during the annual winter flu season.

It can be caused by the impact of the flu virus on the lungs or a bacterial infection getting a grip as a result of a patient's defences being weakened by flu.

The once-off pneumococcal vaccine can provide cover for around two decades.

Meanwhile, writing in today's Irish Independent, Dr Cillian de Gascun, director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory in UCD, said so far "there is no evidence that the current influenza season in Ireland is more severe than last season, although the number of cases is certainly larger".

He repeated that it is not too late to get the flu vaccine.

It comes as the trolley crisis worsened in flu-hit hospitals again yesterday. There were 541 patients waiting for a bed across the country. Among them were 12 young patients on trolleys in the emergency departments of the main children's hospitals in Dublin, according to nurses.

A spokeswoman for the three children's hospitals said that there were a "number of children presenting with the flu and other respiratory viruses and it is anticipated that this number will continue to increase for the next few weeks".

She added: "Some young infants and children with these viruses can become very unwell requiring supportive treatment and prolonged hospital admissions.

"In the interest of patient safety and to manage the risk of infecting other patients on open wards, a number of patients continue to be treated in our emergency departments until a suitable inpatient bed becomes available on a ward.

"The buildings had led to physical constraints and we have submitted proposals to the HSE for funding as part of winter planning."

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) warned that children in several other hospitals across the country that have dedicated paediatric units were also having to be placed on trolleys in adult A&Es.

Read More: 'There are lots of old people waiting on trolleys in there, it's just terrible to see them'

Overcrowding was at its worst yesterday in Cork University and Tullamore hospitals.

The Arctic blast that is sweeping the country this week is expected to worsen the condition of people with respiratory conditions.

Health Minister Simon Harris has promised to make more beds available.

Meanwhile, up to 400 people die each year due to hospital emergency department overcrowding, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told the Dáil.

Mr Martin - himself a former health minister - told Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that "three years ago, you as minister for health said you were sick to death of this problem and that you would solve it".

He accused the Government of being totally unprepared for this current winter crisis.

Mr Varadkar agreed that hospital emergency department overcrowding was totally unacceptable.

"I do not want any patient to face the indignity or clinical risk that is associated with waiting on hospital trolleys," he said.

The Taoiseach said the Government was now working on plans to provide extra hospital beds.

But he said that changes in work practices were also required.

However, he did not elaborate on how this will be achieved.

Irish Independent

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