The Health Service Executive West is urging those aged over 65 years and younger people with long term illnesses, such as asthma, heart problems, etc, to avail of the seasonal flu vaccine now.
Other key at-risk group being targeted by the health authority are health care staff and carers.
This year because of the swine flu pandemic there will be two vaccination campaigns, one for the seasonal flu and later another for the swine flu vaccine.
Vaccines are the best line of defence against a flu virus because they reduce infection and associated illnesses and hospitalisation, explains the HSE.
Dr Diarmuid O’Donovan, the HSE West’s director of public health said while many people are now very aware of swine flu it is important to remember that seasonal flu viruses may still be around this winter.
“Annual flu is a very infectious and potentially serious illness and a new seasonal flu vaccine must be given each year. For older people and those who have a chronic illness, flu can cause severe illness and can even be life threatening. All those at risk should get the annual flu vaccine this year to make sure that they are protected.”
He was keen to dispel a common myth that the vaccine gives people the flu. “The annual flu vaccine cannot give you the flu. We want to increase the uptake of flu vaccine for all the at-risk groups to make sure our most vulnerable groups are kept safe this winter.”
Symptoms of the flu include fever, chills, headache, aches, pains and sometimes a sore throat and dry cough. The flu is also characterised by a very sudden onset of symptoms.
The annual flu vaccine is free for key risk groups. These are everyone aged over 65 years, younger people with chronic illnesses, eg, long term heart, lung or kidney disease, diabetes or any condition which results in a suppressed immune system, and all health care workers and carers who have direct patient contact.
The HSE stressed the annual flu vaccine will not protect against swine flu. When the swine flu vaccine is licensed it will be offered to everyone, starting with people with long term medical conditions and health care workers. Details of the HSE’s swine flu vaccination programme will be available in the coming weeks.
People with either a medical card or GP visit card will not be charged for the flu vaccine at their GP’s surgery. family doctors may charge a consultation fee to administer the vaccine to patients without a medical card or GP visit card, however the vaccine is supplied free.
In addition to the annual flu vaccination everyone in the risk groups should also receive pneumococcal vaccine which is available free from GPs. Pneumococcal vaccine is not required every year - you only need to get it once - so those at risk should check with their doctor.
The HSE dedicated immunisation website, www.immunisation.ie provides details on the seasonal flu vaccination campaign together with answers to questions people may have about flu.