Friday 24 May 2019

New booster jab will leave elderly without protection against deadly Japanese flu

Vaccine: There are signals the flu season in Ireland could be milder this year. Stock picture
Vaccine: There are signals the flu season in Ireland could be milder this year. Stock picture
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Older people who may opt for a new 'booster' flu jab aimed at the over-65s have been warned it leaves them unprotected against the so-called Japanese strain which was dominant in Ireland last year.

The latest vaccine will offer no direct protection against the B/Yamagata strain, thought to have been responsible for most hospital admissions in January.

The warning came from Public Health England, and it refers to the booster jab - which is different to the general flu vaccine.

The HSE said it would not be offering the new jab in GP surgeries and pharmacies.

However, the new booster jab for older people may be available to buy privately in some Irish pharmacies.

A HSE spokeswoman said it has only purchased one type of vaccine for this season.

"The HSE only purchases the vaccines recommended by the Department of Health and the National Immunisation Advisory Committee and at the moment that is a trivalent vaccine," she said.

Trivalent means it consists of three inactivated influenza viruses.

In the UK, Public Health England acknowledged that offering people over 65 a boosted trivalent jab was not ideal, but better than a non-boosted vaccine protecting against the Yamagata strain.

The announcement follows the worst flu season for seven years.

Meanwhile, there are signals that the flu season in Ireland and in Europe could be milder this year if it mirrors Australia, which is now emerging from its winter.

This time last year there were major warnings about Aussie flu in Ireland after the severe season in Australia.

"The flu season for this year, for 2018, in Australia has been very mild," says Kanta Subbarao, a virologist and physician in Melbourne who is director of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza.

She said part of the reason was that the strain known as H1N1 had predominated.

"It's quite a contrast from last year, when we had a very severe flu season, with H3N2 predominating," she noted.

A vaccination is available every year to help protect adults and children at risk of flu and its complications.

The vaccination programme will start here in the coming weeks.

The HSE said the seasonal flu vaccine protects against the three strains of flu virus recommended by the WHO as the strains most likely to be circulating this season.

"You should get your flu vaccination from September to be covered for flu season. The viruses change each year. This is why you need to get a new vaccine each year," it said.

"People 18 and over should get the vaccine from their GP or pharmacist or occupational health department. Younger people should get the vaccine from their GP.

"The flu vaccine is free if you are in an at-risk group but you may be charged a consultation fee, unless you have a medical card or a GP visit card.

"The flu vaccine doesn't contain any live viruses - it cannot give you the flu."

The effectiveness of the flu jab can vary among different age and risk groups.

It is important it matches the flu strains that are circulating.

Irish Independent

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