Free flu vaccine should be available to everyone from six months old, the Irish Pharmacy Union has urged.
“We can’t stop the coronavirus yet but we can stop the flu,” says IPU vice-president and community pharmacist Eoghan Hanly.
The organisation that represents 95% of community pharmacies in Ireland says planning for the next flu season should start now.
The IPU says a “central pillar” of efforts to increase the flu vaccine uptake is to make it available to everyone for free this autumn.
“As the world waits with hope for a vaccine against Covid-19 it should be seen as everyone’s responsibility to build collective immunity against flu,” says Mr Hanly.
Because of Covid-19 previously alien concepts such as social distancing, community transmission, and herd immunity are now well understood.
“We must now seize the opportunity presented by these greater levels of public understanding and step up the fight against the perennial problem of seasonal flu,” he says.
During the 2019/2020 influenza season that has just ended 4,323 people were hospitalised with flu, according to the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre.
Of those admitted to hospital, 152 were admitted to intensive care. There have been 103 flu-related deaths reported to the HPSC to date.
The flu vaccine usually becomes available in late September and Mr Hanly says the complex process of procuring adequate national stocks of seasonal flu vaccines will start shortly.
The Government’s chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, has stressed the need for people to receive the flu vaccination early and in greater numbers.
As well as making the vaccine available free to everyone from six months old, the IPU wants pharmacies to be allowed to administer it freely in nursing homes and workplaces.
The IPU has also called for a public information campaign to raise awareness about the availability and importance of children receiving the flu vaccine.
“Every year flu is cited as the reason for the annual challenges with our health system. We can and should do much more to prevent this,” he says.
Mr Hanly says Ireland compared well to other EU member states but it stills fall short of the target of having 75% of people over the age of 65 vaccinated against flu.
“Making the vaccine free for everyone and improving its accessibility would send a powerful message about its importance to public health.”
Last year over 1.1m flu vaccines were administered, a 60% increase since pharmacies were first allowed to administer the jab a decade ago.