Press Release

Martin launches Influenza Immunisation Campaign

The Minister for Health and Children, Micheál Martin T.D., today (13 September, 2000) launched the Influenza Immunisation Campaign.

The Minister said that while for the able-bodied among the population, influenza does not pose a serious risk, there are others for whom the disease is potentially serious. He said “Those who are at risk should they develop influenza are the elderly and people of any age who have lung, heart or kidney disease or a suppressed immune system. Annual vaccination of those at risk, and older people in particular, is an effective way of preventing infection and the complications, hospitalisation and mortality associated with influenza.”

The Minister said that agreement had recently been reached between the Health Service Employers’ Agency and the Irish Medical Organisation in relation to a fee for general practitioners for administering the vaccine to medical card holders. He said “I would like to assure medical card holders in the at-risk groups that they will be able to obtain this service completely free of charge from their GP.”

The Minister said that as in previous years, the vaccine itself is also being provided by health boards to GPs for administration to their other at-risk patients. The question of a fee for the administration of the vaccine in these cases is a matter between the patient and their doctor.

The Minister said that this year a range of other elements will also be in place which should help to improve uptake of the vaccine and also the monitoring of the incidence of the disease during the winter season. “Earlier this year I established a committee to draw up plans to address any future influenza pandemic. This would be where there is a dramatic increase in the incidence of influenza worldwide. I have also asked this committee to consider issues which arise in relation to the more regular outbreaks of influenza, and how our health services might best be prepared for these” he said.

The Minister said that following advice from the Immunisation Advisory Committee of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland on the matter, “My Department has asked the health boards to promote the annual immunisation against influenza of health care workers in health board and non-health board settings. This will provide protection both for the workers themselves and the patients in their care”.

The Minister said that a further development this year is the putting in place of a pilot influenza surveillance system. He said “This project, funding for which has been provided by my Department, is a collaborative venture involving the Irish College of General Practitioners, the National Disease Surveillance Centre and the Virus Reference Laboratory. A number of sentinel medical practices around the country will participate in the project, the objectives of which are to monitor consultations for influenza-like illnesses over the winter period, to identify the viruses in circulation and to estimate the effectiveness of the vaccination programme”.

The Minister took the opportunity to dispel the myth that receiving the influenza vaccine can itself bring on the infection. “This is not so. Influenza vaccine contains inactivated influenza virus and so it cannot bring on influenza. It does however take ten to fourteen days to start protecting recipients against the disease” he said.

The Minister said that the ideal time for influenza vaccination is September/October. “Now is the time for people, and especially those over 65, to discuss the issue with their general practitioner. Indeed it is also important that general practitioners ensure that the at-risk patients in their practice are contacted and invited to attend for vaccination as soon as possible.”