Sharp fall in swine flu cases
HSE warns against complacency and urges vaccinations
THE number of people falling ill with swine flu has dropped sharply, despite the freezing weather.
Fewer than 919 people had the virus last week -- compared to as many as 27,000 in early November.
There were no further deaths from the pandemic virus and the overall toll remained at 22.
But 148 people sick with swine flu remained in hospital, with nine in intensive care.
The overall rate of influenza-like illness is 16.5 per 100,000, which is below the threshold level at which the seasonal flu vaccine is normally introduced.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) warned, however, there is no room for complacency and urged everyone in risk groups to avail of the vaccine.
These include children under five years, schoolchildren from five to 18 years, the over 65s , the household contacts of children under six months and pregnant women. A spokesperson for the HSE said: "The adverse weather is impacting on attendance at swine flu clinics but the level of impact varies across the country."
"We would ask that if people have booked an appointment and cannot now attend, that they call the clinic to let them know so that appointments can be allocated to others where possible," she added.
The vaccination programme in schools has suffered a setback because of closures due to the bad weather, but it will resume once classrooms re-open.
The Irish Medicines Board said that, up to Wednesday, it received 944 reports of suspected adverse reactions to the two pandemic vaccines, but they remain consistent with the expected side-effects.
"The benefits versus the risks of both vaccines remain positive," said a spokesperson.
Meanwhile, an order for another 3.7 million doses of swine flu vaccine has been cancelled by the HSE.
A spokeswoman said it had renegotiated deliveries of supplies of Celvepan vaccine from Baxter and this would result in a saving of €25m to €35m.
The HSE has been using two brands of vaccine since the vaccination campaign began -- the other is Pandemerix.
However, while two doses of Celvepan are needed, just one dose of Pandemerix will suffice in most cases -- except for 'immunosuppressed' patients.
The HSE originally ordered 7.7 million doses of swine flu vaccine at a cost of around €80m. It was originally believed everyone would need two jabs.
Some countries, such as France, are selling their surplus vaccines to those who failed to place early orders in advance of the pandemic.
The general population here has yet to be offered the swine flu vaccine. It is expected to be rolled out in the early part of this year.