Press Release

Minister Micheál Martin launches Influenza Immunisation Campaign 2002 – 2003

Mr Micheál Martin TD, Minister for Health and Children, today (23 September 2002) announced the beginning of the 2002/2003 Influenza Immunisation Campaign.

The Minister said: “The influenza vaccine is available free of charge from GPs to medical card holders at risk of contracting the disease; those most at risk of contracting influenza include those aged 65 or older, as well as those with specific chronic illness such as chronic heart, lung or kidney disease and those with a suppressed immune system.” The Minister explained that individuals who are in an at risk category who do not have a medical card are entitled to the vaccine free of charge but the fee for administering the vaccine in such cases is a matter between the GP and the patient.

The Minister said that influenza is a highly infectious viral disease that can affect large numbers of people. He said that complications are common and hospitalisation rates are high in both the elderly and those with underlying disease.

“The influenza vaccine provides up to 90% protection against the disease and is highly effective against the complications of influenza. Its impact in reducing mortality from influenza in older people is well documented. However, as its protection lasts about one year it is important that people at risk of contracting influenza are vaccinated every year against the most recent strains”, he said.

The influenza vaccine can take 10-14 days to start protecting people against influenza, so in order to fully protect, early vaccination is essential. “The ideal time for vaccination against influenza is before the end of October but if one is unable to receive vaccination during that time for any reason, I would encourage you to do so as soon as possible thereafter during the winter months.”

The Minister said that over half a million doses of the influenza vaccine are being made available this winter, a significant quantity of which has already been distributed to health boards and GP practices throughout the country.

The Minister said: “I also urge those of you who have not been previously vaccinated against pneumococcal disease to avail of this vaccine in addition to the influenza vaccine. This vaccine is also available free of charge from GPs to medical card holders at risk of contracting the disease. The at risk groups for pneumococcal disease are similar to those at risk of contracting influenza and include those with severe dysfunction of the spleen.” The pneumococcal vaccine does not have to be repeated annually.

The Minister emphasised: “I would urge those at risk of contracting influenza, particularly those over 65 years of age, to attend their GP for immunisation as soon as possible. I would also encourage GPs to contact patients who are in at risk categories for this disease to invite them to attend for vaccination at their earliest convenience.”