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Ireland tops EU chart for giving older citizens annual flu vaccine

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Minister Stephen Donnelly

Minister Stephen Donnelly

Minister Stephen Donnelly

Ireland has the highest flu vaccination rate for older citizens of any EU country as more than two-thirds of our over-65s are inoculated.

The worst country for flu vaccination rates among seniors is Latvia, where fewer than one in 10 has had the jab, the EU said.

Just under 69pc of older people in Ireland got the flu vaccine in 2018. The EU average is 41pc, European Commission figures show.

The commission said there were considerable differences in the proportion of people being vaccinated against flu across the economic bloc.

It noted there was a range of different policies among the 27 member states in respect of making the vaccine available to the general public, with many programmes targeted at older citizens or other at-risk groups.

Campaign

The flu vaccination rate among over-65s in Ireland had ranged between 55pc and 60pc over most of the past decade, including 57.6pc in 2017 when it had the highest rate in the EU after the Netherlands and Portugal.

Targeted campaigns to increase the flu vaccination rate have been brought in by the HSE in recent years to reduce pressure on the healthcare system and, in particular, to reduce overcrowding in hospitals in winter.

A total of 3,244 people were hospitalised with flu in the 2018-2019 season, with 159 admitted to ICUs, figures from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre show. There were 97 flu deaths over that period.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has said the Government is expanding the provision of free flu vaccinations this year, given the potential for the 2020/21 winter season to coincide with a resurgence of Covid-19 and the importance of minimising numbers attending hospital.

Free flu vaccinations would be provided to all at-risk groups, including healthcare workers and all children aged two to 12, Mr Donnelly said.

Research indicated that the requirement to pay resulted in lower uptake rates among at-risk groups who do not hold medical or GP visit cards.

Mr Donnelly said the plan is to administer the vaccines through GPs and pharmacists, as in previous years.

"Given the importance of significantly increasing the level of uptake of the vaccine for the coming winter, resources will be provided to GPs and pharmacists not only to deliver the vaccination to the expanded groups but to actively seek relevant patients and deliver vaccinations such as through dedicated flu vaccination clinics," the minister said.

"The expanded programme will ensure that those who are most vulnerable to the effect of influenza will have access to vaccination without charge."

Spread

It is expected the programme will result in a reduction in the number of flu-related hospital admissions over the coming months, as well as a reduction in the overall spread of influenza in the community, Mr Donnelly said.

It is estimated that the Government will spend around €77m on this winter's flu vaccination programme, with €61.5m apportioned to the cost associated with the expansion of the scheme.

In response to a parliamentary question from Labour leader Alan Kelly on the cost of providing the influenza vaccine to all citizens, Mr Donnelly said it was not possible to estimate a figure.

There were too many vari-ables, such as the type and quantity of vaccine and the rate of vaccine uptake, he said.