Northern Ireland people whose health could be seriously affected by flu were today urged to get the free flu vaccine as the Public Health Agency (PHA) launched its seasonal flu vaccination programme for 2012/2013.
The message going out to people in ‘at risk’ groups, including over 65s, pregnant women, children and adults with some serious medical conditions, as well as youngsters attending schools for children with severe learning difficulties, is ‘Flu is more serious than you think – so get the flu vaccination now’.
GPs will now be inviting patients in ‘at risk’ categories, including people with severe egg allergies, to get the seasonal flu vaccine and protect themselves and their loved ones.
This year children aged 2-17 in ‘at risk’ groups, such as those with asthma, heart conditions or cerebral palsy, will receive the flu vaccine via a nasal spray. From 2014 all children aged between 2-17 years inclusive will receive the flu vaccination, via a nasal spray.
For those people in ‘at risk’ groups, flu can cause serious illness and result in a stay in hospital, or even death. Even if you currently feel fit and healthy, you may be at increased risk of flu and should receive the free vaccine. It is also important to remember that the flu virus can differ every flu season, which is why you need to get the vaccination every year - so even if you received the vaccine in spring this year, you still need to get the vaccination for the 2012/13 flu season.
Dr Gerry Waldron, Acting Assistant Director, Health Protection, PHA, explains the importance of the flu vaccine for ‘at risk’ groups: “Everyone who receives an invitation to be vaccinated against flu should see it as a positive step in protecting their health and the health of others around them.
“The flu vaccine does not give you the flu. It is offered for the sole reason to protect ‘at risk’ groups because if they get flu, they are more likely to have severe illness and/or develop complications such as pneumonia, which can be life-threatening.
“Pregnant women are more likely to have serious illness if they catch flu, which is why they will be invited by their GP at all stages of pregnancy, to protect them and their unborn baby. Health and Social Care staff are also urged to get vaccinated, to protect themselves, their families and those they care for.
“This year children aged 2-17 in at risk groups will be offered the vaccine via a nasal spray and not through the jab as in previous years.”
It is important to remember that the seasonal flu vaccine is needed every year as last year’s vaccine will not protect you this season.
Dr Waldron added: “Traditionally uptake rates for flu vaccination are very high in Northern Ireland which is a result of the hard work and dedication from all involved in the health and social care, as well as the Public Health Agency’s targeted media campaign.”
In highlighting the importance of getting the seasonal flu vaccine, Health Minister Edwin Poots said: “I cannot overstate enough how important it is for people in 'at risk' groups to get vaccinated from the flu as soon as possible to avoid any complications from getting the virus.
“Northern Ireland traditionally achieves a high uptake rate for the 'at risk' groups thanks to the hard work and dedication from all the staff involved in the vaccination programme across the Health and Social Care Trusts and also GPs and their staff. I would again urge everyone involved in the vaccination programme to try and build on this uptake rate to ensure as many of our most vulnerable citizens are protected against seasonal flu.”
As it takes approximately 10 days following vaccination to develop protection against flu, clinics will be held from October 1 onwards, so that most people will have had the opportunity to receive the flu vaccine before the traditional peak of the flu season in December. If you wait until flu starts circulating, it may be too late for the vaccine to protect you.
Notes to the editor
- For more information about the flu vaccine for 2012/13, visit www.fluawareni.info, or www.nidirect.gov.uk, or speak to your GP/nurse or member of staff at the antenatal clinic in your local Health and Social Care Trust.
- Children under nine require two doses if they have never had the vaccine before and those over require one.
- ‘At risk’ groups for flu include:
- Anyone aged 65 or over, even if they feel fit and healthy at the moment.
- Pregnant women (at any stage of pregnancy).
- Children and adults who have any of the following medical conditions:
- a chronic chest condition such as asthma;
- a chronic heart condition;
- chronic kidney disease;
- lowered immunity due to disease or treatment such as steroids or cancer therapy;
- a chronic neurological condition such as stroke, multiple sclerosis or a condition that affects your nervous system, such as cerebral palsy;
- any other serious medical condition – check with your doctor if you are unsure.
- Children who have previously been admitted to hospital with a chest infection.
- Children attending schools for those with severe learning difficulties.
- Anyone living in a residential or nursing home.
- Main carers for elderly or disabled people.