Autumn vaccination programme gets under way
A planned and targeted autumn/winter vaccination campaign to help protect those most at risk from respiratory illnesses has been launched by the Public Health Agency (PHA).
The life-saving vaccination programme, which will help protect the community against deadly viruses ahead of winter, commenced today [Monday 18 September]. It will see flu and COVID-19 vaccines offered to over a million people in Northern Ireland over coming months, starting with those in care homes who are some of the most vulnerable members of our community.
Dr Joanne McClean, Director of Public Health at the PHA, is urging everyone in the eligible groups to get ready for winter by taking up the offer of free vaccination when invited.
“The SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes COVID-19 is constantly evolving, with new variants arising frequently” , Dr McClean said.
“Some of these can become dominant and could cause further waves of infection. We also must not forget that flu is also a very serious virus that can result in serious illness and death.
“Vaccines are the most effective way to prevent infectious diseases as they teach our immune system how to recognise and fight viruses.
“Being vaccinated against both viruses will not only help to protect you and those around you from flu and COVID-19, but will help protect everyone from a potentially devastating double threat this winter.”
The programme will be implemented using a combination of GPs, community pharmacies and Health and Social Care Trusts, with the majority of vaccinations expected to be administered by GPs and community pharmacies.
If you are eligible for flu vaccination, you need to be vaccinated every year as the antibodies that protect you from flu decline over time, and flu strains change from year to year. It can take up to two weeks for your immunity to build up fully after you have had your flu vaccine.
The COVID-19 autumn vaccine is being offered to people at higher risk of severe illness should they get coronavirus. By taking up the vaccine this autumn, you will increase your protection ahead of the winter months, when respiratory viruses are typically at their peak.
Vaccine programme arrangements
Given that the two vaccination programmes will be running at the same time, with slightly different delivery arrangements and eligible groups for each, we are urging people to work with our health service, whether it is the school nursing service, your GP surgery, community pharmacy or another route of vaccination, so that both programmes can be delivered in a timely and well-managed way.
Some people may be offered the flu jab and COVID-19 booster vaccine at the same appointment. It is safe and effective to receive it in this way.
Everyone who is eligible for vaccination should make themselves aware of their own GP surgery’s, community pharmacist’s or trust’s vaccination arrangements, or look out for the consent form for their children coming home in schoolbags.
Dr McClean concluded: “The flu and COVID-19 vaccines are free and could make a big difference to your health and the health of those closest to you. It is really important that ‘at risk’ groups are vaccinated as they can develop severe illness and complications if infected.
“The message is clear – if you’re eligible for either the flu vaccine, COVID-19 vaccine or both, take up the offer when invited.”
Those eligible for HSC flu vaccine in 2023/24 are:
- all preschool children aged two to four years on 1 September 2023;
- all primary and secondary school children (up to and including year 12);
- those aged six months to under 65 years in clinical risk groups (as defined by the influenza chapter in ‘Immunisation against infectious disease’ (the ‘Green Book’);
- all those aged 65 years and over on 31 March 2024;
- pregnant women;
- those in long-stay residential care homes;
- close contacts of immunocompromised individuals;
- frontline health and social care workers (HSCWs) employed by:
- Health and social care Trusts including Northern Ireland Ambulance Service;
- community HSC providers including GP practices, pharmacies, dentists, optometrists;
- registered independent sector residential care or nursing home;
- registered domiciliary care providers;
- voluntary managed hospice providers.
Eligible groups for COVID-19 vaccine in 2023 to 2024 are:
- residents in a care home for older adults;
- all adults aged 65 years and over;
- persons aged six months to 64 years in a clinical risk group, as laid out in the Immunisation Green Book COVID-19 chapter (Green Book);
- frontline health and social care workers;
- persons aged 12 to 64 years who are household contacts (as defined in the Green Book) of people with immunosuppression;
- persons aged 16 to 64 years who are carers (as defined in the Green Book) and staff working in care homes for older adults.
Further details on the winter vaccination programme can be found at www.nidirect.gov.uk/wintervaccines