The HSE has urged people who are in at-risk groups to get vaccinated against influenza as quickly as possible as the flu season commences, especially as the vaccine can take up to two weeks to start working.
“This year’s flu season is just beginning. Flu vaccine prevents hospitalisations and deaths. The best protection against flu is the flu vaccine”, Dr Anna Clarke, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, HSE National Immunisation Office, advised.
“The flu vaccine is a lifesaver because flu can be a very serious and sometimes deadly disease, with potentially 1,000 flu related deaths in Ireland during a severe flu season”.
National uptake figures indicate that 54 per cent of people aged 65 and over, who hold a medical card or GP visit card, received the flu vaccine during the 2016-2017 flu season.
Although this uptake rate is the same as the 2015-2016 flu season, it remains less than the World Health Organisation target of 75 per cent.
Dr Clarke stressed: “The vaccine reduces infection and associated illnesses and hospitalisation. Flu is very infectious and can cause potentially serious illnesses especially for older people, those who have a chronic illness, those with weakened immune systems and pregnant women.
“Seasonal flu vaccine can be given at any stage of pregnancy and also protects the baby. The flu vaccine cannot give you the flu as it does not contain any live flu virus and all those at risk should get vaccinated as soon as possible this year to make sure that they are protected”, she added.
Flu symptoms generally develop over the course of a few hours, consisting of a high temperature, sore muscles, dry cough, headache, and sore throat.
At-risk categories of people include everyone who is aged 65 years and over, anyone over six months of age with a long term illness (such as chronic lung disease, chronic heart disease, diabetes or those with lower immunity), pregnant women, nursing home or long stay facility residents, and healthcare workers.
In addition to the seasonal flu vaccination, some people in the at-risk groups may also need pneumococcal vaccine, which most people only need to get it once.
The HSE provides the flu and pneumococcal vaccines free of charge for people in at-risk groups, however those without a Medical Card or GP Visit Card will be charged a consultation fee.