Free flu vaccines introduced for at-risk groups

Free flu vaccines introduced for at-risk groups

The influenza vaccine is to be offered to children and HSE-defined at-risk groups without charge.

Health Minister Simon Harris confirmed all of those in the at-risk groups, aged from six months to 69 years inclusive, will have access to the vaccine without charge.

People aged over 70 already have access without charges.

The vaccination will be available to all children aged from two to 12 inclusive.

"A resurgence of COVID-19 during the coming flu season could present a significant challenge to the delivery of healthcare services in the coming winter," said Mr Harris.

"That is why officials from my Department have been working closely with the HSE to put in place an expansion of the seasonal influenza vaccination programme for winter 2020/21.

Flu is a potentially fatal illness and I want to ensure that the most vulnerable in our communities are protected.

The Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) welcomed the announcement by the Minister for Health.

IPU Secretary General Darragh O’ Loughlin said: “While we would have liked to see the scheme extended further, making the flu vaccination available to children aged 2-12 and to all at-risk groups without charge is definitely a step in the right direction."

Mr O’ Loughlin said that the decision will increase the health system's capacity to combat seasonal flu and prevent it from becoming overwhelmed.

The government's decision not to extend the flu vaccine to all for free however has been criticised.

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly said he is disappointed it is not available free of charge for all citizens.

"While it is welcome that the Minister for Health has confirmed that those in at-risk groups will continue to get this vaccine for free, I believe that not offering the flu vaccine to all citizens for free is doing a disservice to those who are immunocompromised while we are in the middle of the global Covid-19 pandemic, which will still be an issue during flu season," he said.

"It’s not enough to just provide this vaccine free of charge to children and those in at-risk groups, this year of all years we must provide it to all citizens for free if we want to try minimise the damage on our Emergency Departments created every year by the flu."

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