Press Release

Martin launches Influenza Immunisation Campaign

“Vaccinate – it may save your life” – Minister

The Minister for Health and Children, Mr Micheál Martin TD, today (26 September, 2001), launched the largest ever National Influenza Immunisation Campaign.

Influenza is a highly infectious viral disease that impacts on all age groups. Complications are common and hospitalisation rates high in both the elderly and in those with underlying disease.

“All those for whom immunisation is recommended should avail of the vaccine at the earliest possible opportunity. It takes 10-14 days to start protecting recipients against the disease. While the ideal time for vaccination is September/October, the vaccine can be administered throughout the winter months,” advised the Minister.

Vaccine has already been distributed to health boards and GP practices throughout the country. Influenza vaccine provides up to 90% protection against the disease and it is highly effective against the complications of influenza. Its impact in reducing mortality from influenza in older people is well documented. Protection lasts about one year so it is important that at-risk people should be vaccinated annually against the most recent strains. The at-risk groups include

  • persons aged 65 years or older;
  • those with specific chronic illness such as chronic heart, lung or kidney disease;
  • those with a suppressed immune system.

Influenza vaccine contains inactivated influenza virus and therefore cannot cause influenza. It is available free of charge from general practitioners to medical card holders at risk of contracting the disease. Where a patient is in an at-risk group but is not a medical card holder, there is no charge for the vaccine but the fee for administering the vaccine in such cases is a matter between the general practitioner and the patient.

The Immunisation Advisory Committee of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland advises that influenza vaccine should be considered for all health care workers who have contact with patients both in the community and in health care institutions such as hospitals and nursing homes. “My Department has asked the health boards to promote the annual immunisation of health care workers against influenza,” said the Minister.

The influenza vaccination programme has been greatly enhanced in recent years. “The quantity of vaccine available under the programme has increased from 300,000 doses in the 1999/2000 campaign to in excess of 500,000 for the campaign which I am launching today,” he said.

The increased uptake of the vaccine in recent years has resulted in a higher proportion of at-risk patients being protected against the virus compared to earlier years.

This will be the second year of influenza surveillance using computerised sentinel general practices in Ireland. The objectives of the project are

  • to monitor consultations for influenza-like illnesses over the October to May period
  • to identify the viruses in circulation
  • to estimate the effect of the vaccination programme.

The 2000/2001 project has produced valuable information regarding influenza activity in Ireland. Influenza surveillance is essential in order to minimise the impact of this potentially fatal infection, especially in the high risk groups. The Minister said that he expected the Committee which he established last year to draw up plans to address any future influenza pandemic, to present an Influenza Pandemic Plan later this year.

The Minister also urged those in the at-risk groups who have not previously been vaccinated against pneumococcal disease to avail of this vaccine in addition to the influenza vaccine. The significant difference between the influenza and pneumococcal vaccines is that while the flu vaccine must be repeated annually, this is not necessary for pneumococcal vaccine because it provides longer term immunity.

“This vaccine is also available free of charge from general practitioners to medical card holders at risk of contracting the disease. The at-risk groups are similar to those at risk of contracting influenza and include those with asplenia or severe dysfunction of the spleen,” said the Minister.

According to Mr Seán Hurley, Chief Executive Officer, Southern Health Board on behalf of the health boards, a 65% vaccination target rate has been set for vaccination of over 65s.

The largest ever consignment of influenza vaccine is now available throughout Ireland. “The message is clear – vaccinate -it may save your life,” said the Minister.

Speech by Minister at the launch of the Influenza Immunisation Campaign