All GPs across Ireland will receive "at least" the same number of doses of the flu vaccine as last year, the HSE says, amid fears of a delay or shortage of the vaccine.
Concerns have been raised over delays to the arrival of the vaccine, which has been identified as an important weapon in the fight against Covid-19. Medics are hoping for a milder flu season to alleviate the burden on the health system.
It had been suggested the HSE would only have two-thirds of the number of doses of the vaccine that it had last year available next month, something independent TD Denis Naughten said raised concerns over access to the vaccine for vulnerable groups such as older people and the immunosuppressed.
“If people in vulnerable groups get the flu, they are more likely to also get Covid-19 which, as a result, will be far more severe and place a huge additional burden on our health service.
“The only way our health service can manage a surge in Covid-19 infection this winter is if we can rule out the possibility that the patient has flu, as the symptoms are so similar. This can only be achieved by a population-wide vaccination programme against the flu virus and this now under serious jeopardy as a result of these significant delays."
Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson David Cullinane said the HSE had not yet told politicians about any issues facing the rollout of the vaccine this year.
"We've had no explanation as to why a delay or shortage might be the case. The flu vaccine is critical to ensuring that hospitals aren't overrun this winter.
"The HSE's winter plan was due to be published this week but now may not be published until next week. We've had no detail as to why there's a delay."
Dr Colm Henry, the National Clinical Advisor and Programme Lead for Acute Hospitals said there had been some delays in the arrival of the flu vaccine, but further batches were due to arrive soon and, he said, there would be sufficient quantities.
The HSE said all GPs will be given at least the same number of doses as last year. The executive said the reliance on manufacturers remains the same as all years.
"The first deliveries of influenza vaccines to all sites (GPs, pharmacists, nursing homes etc.) started on September 17. The deliveries commenced on September 16, 2019.
"There has been no change to the at-risk target groups for adult influenza vaccination this season as part of the HSE programme.
"As ever, the HSE is dependent on the manufacturer delivering the vaccine into Ireland."