Concerns have been raised about the low vaccine uptake rate among children this year, with GPs warning that tens of thousands of unused vaccines are set to expire next month.
Both the HSE and GPs have emphasised the importance of ensuring children get the flu vaccine, which is available as a nasal vaccine to two to 12-year-olds in Ireland this year for the first time.
Several GPs have warned that tens of thousands of these nasal vaccines will expire next month, rendering them useless.
Dr Maitiu Ó Tuathail, former president of the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP), said there had been a low uptake of the vaccine among children since it was made available in recent months.
“This is the first year that we have been able to offer the flu vaccine to children from two to 12 years old,” he explained.
“It's disappointing to see such a low uptake rate, which currently stands at around 20%.
“What's worse is that these vaccines will expire in January which means we will have to dump them, and that's just tragic,” he added.
Dr Ó Tuathail emphasised the importance of children obtaining the vaccine, especially amid the current pandemic.
A spokesperson for the HSE confirmed that the first batch of the nasal flu vaccines were due to expire next month and emphasised the importance of parents ensuring their child gets the vaccine.
The HSE procured 600,000 doses of nasal flu vaccine (LAIV) this year, and 460,000 of these have been distributed.
Flu does affect children read Aralynn’s story.— HSE National Immunisation Office (NIO) (@HSEImm) December 3, 2020
This year @roinnslainte expanded the immunisation policy to include children aged 2-12.
Nasal Flu Vaccine is available for free through participating GP practices & Pharmacies (check locally)https://t.co/BEoseH0wMv #KeepVaccinating pic.twitter.com/xtJvRhNcpf
“At least 180,000 doses of the children’s vaccine has been given to date,” the HSE spokesperson said, adding there can sometimes be a time lag between the vaccine being administered and the claim being submitted.
“Therefore, uptake is likely to be higher than this as more than 460,000 have been distributed,” they said.
“Further uptake will be available later in the season.
The HSE said it has worked with stakeholders to create a communications campaign to support the new programme for the nasal flu vaccine.
The campaign has distributed factual information on the vaccine across TV, radio and other media platforms, and will continue until the end of 2020.
The HSE also said that recent reports indicated there was no evidence of influenza viruses circulating in the community in Ireland at present, and that vaccination and Covid-19 measures were important in ensuring this continues.
The nasal flu vaccine for children was rolled out in Ireland for first time this year, free of charge to 2-12 year olds. Due to lower uptake than hoped the Government has been urged to extend eligibility to 13-17 years olds as the excess vaccines expire in Jan. But no change yet. https://t.co/xMuFWKdhD7— Priscilla Lynch (@PriscillaLynch) December 3, 2020
The spokesperson said that twice as many people may be vaccinated this year as in the 2019/20 vaccination season if demand among children and at-risk groups remains at the level seen in recent weeks.
“In addition, infection control prevention measures which the public is being asked to follow to prevent the spread of Covid-19 will also prevent the spread of flu,” they added.
“Observing social distancing, practising good respiratory/hand hygiene, wearing face coverings and staying at home if we have symptoms will also prevent the spread of flu.”