Press Release

Minister for Older People encourages more uptake of flu vaccine

Minister for Older People, Helen McEntee TD, today has said it is important that older people are aware they are especially vulnerable to the particular strain of influenza prevalent in Ireland at the moment and issued a reminder that it is never too late to vaccinate.

“People aged over-65 are considered to be one of the at-risk groups who are encouraged to get the flu vaccine and it is welcome that uptake rates have improved in these groups. However, my information is that only around half of older people on medical cards have taken up the vaccine. While the uptake among residents of nursing homes may be higher, we know that we have significant outbreaks in residential care facilities and community hospitals, and increased influenza hospitalisations. It is important that, as well as generally promoting vaccination among this part of the population, that older people and their families are aware that the particular strain of ‘flu prevalent Ireland at the moment predominantly affects older people and to remind them that it’s never too late to vaccinate. If you are 65 or over or have a long term medical condition you should also ask your doctor about the pneumococcal vaccine.

“People can access the vaccine easily by contacting their GP or pharmacist, and the HSE provides the flu and pneumococcal vaccine free of charge for all those over-65. The vaccine and consultation are free for those with a Medical Card or GP Visit Card. People who don’t have either a Medical Card or GP Visit Card may be charged a consultation fee.

“No older person wants to end up in hospital if they can avoid it and vaccination is really the best way to ensure they are protected from ‘flu which may exacerbate conditions they already have and then involve a lengthy hospital stay. Even if you have had the vaccine, and you develop symptoms, contact your GP immediately as they may prescribe antiviral medication, which can help keep you out of hospital.”

Highlighting the supports that are available for older people in the health service, Minister McEntee said “I want to be very clear that there are services available, and that looking after our older people is a priority. We now have one of the lowest numbers on record of people waiting to leave hospital to go home or to a place in a care setting that is better for them and meets their needs. We have minimal waiting times for the Nursing Home Support Scheme – applications are processed very quickly, allowing people to move out of acute hospitals. We have almost a thousand additional home care packages, 58 additional Transitional Care Bed approvals for every acute hospital every single week and increased funding for aids and appliances, which is expected to benefit more than 3,000 people.”

Notes for Editors

Overall, influenza activity in Ireland increased during weeks 51 and 52 2016 (up to the week ending January 1, 2017). Influenza-like illness (ILI) consultation rates have been above baseline levels since the week ending 11th December. Influenza A(H3) is the predominant influenza virus circulating this season. Confirmed influenza hospitalisation and influenza outbreaks are currently at high levels and are continuing to increase, with those aged 65 years and older most affected. Respiratory admissions reported from a sentinel hospital network are at very high levels. It is recommended that antivirals be considered for the treatment or prevention of influenza in high risk groups. Any person over 65 years who has not received the flu vaccine this season is strongly advised to do so.