Up to 1,000 people could die in Ireland from flu over the coming months, health chiefs have warned.
People who are particularly at risk from the potentially deadly effects of the seasonal infection – including the elderly and chronically ill – have been urged to get vaccinated.
Pregnant women, residents in care homes and healthcare workers have also been identified as among those who should seek out a vaccine.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar added his voice to calls for particularly vulnerable groups to get the jab.
“I have seen at first hand the effect that influenza can have on vulnerable people, especially the elderly and people with chronic diseases,” he said.
“This year I particularly want to remind health care professionals of their duty to protect themselves and their patients by getting immunised.
“I know we can all do a much better job to get a much better uptake among the people who deal with our vulnerable patients every day.”
An ongoing study started last year on the impact on the flu shows between 200 to 500 people die in Ireland of the virus every winter.
However, the initial findings of the European-wide research also warns the death toll could rise to as much as 1,000 in a particularly severe season.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) says the flu vaccine is a “lifesaver”.
But despite this, Brenda Corcoran, head of the National Immunisation Office, said particularly vulnerable people put themselves at risk of serious illness or death every year by not getting vaccinated.
“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.
Indications so far suggest nearly six in 10 of those aged 65 and over who hold a medical card or GP visit card received the flu vaccine during the 2013-2014 flu season.
The number of people getting the vaccine in Ireland is still below international targets.
The HSE said those vaccinated last year need to get the jab again this year as the virus strains have changed. It is free for those with a medical card or GP visit card.
Those without will be charged a “consultation” fee, the HSE said.