The first 30,000 batches of the swine flu vaccine will arrive here next week.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) said the decision not to vaccinate infants under six months was because they “still had a natural immunity”. However a baby’s natural immunity is not guaranteed beyond two/three months unless the mother is breastfeeding. The HSE has already confirmed babies are among those who have caught swine flu.
The Department of Health has confirmed that to secure early supplies of the vaccine, the Government granted indemnity to the drug companies – Baxter Healthcare and GlaxoSmithKline – as part of an advance purchase agreement.
It said waiving liability for side effects – which the British and American governments have also done – did not absolve the vaccine companies from compliance with the normal quality assurance standards in the production of the vaccine. The department said the vaccine will be produced “using methods that have been tried and tested in the yearly process of seasonal flu vaccine production which is also produced over a short time frame” and that these vaccines “have had a very good safety profile”.
Dr Tony Holohan, the HSE chief medical officer, said the number of cases being diagnosed was stabilising. Some 75 people with the potentially deadly bug have been hospitalised, with 21 still in care.
The top medic said up to 40% of those hospitalised have suffered from an underlying medical condition.
“We’re seeing a pretty sustained low level of infection in the population over the last number of weeks.”
Meanwhile, the Irish Nurses Organisation (INO) has warned that a plan for nurse-led clinics to administer the vaccine – in two doses, three weeks apart – faces manpower difficulties.
INO general secretary Liam Doran said: “How we are suddenly going to crank up the vaccination programme on the scale of what is being proposed when, as we speak frontline staff are being let go and wards closed? It’s a huge logistical exercise involving almost eight million vaccine doses. The HSE’s genuine efforts to prepare do not seem to be reflected in what the services are doing.”