Pharmacists are warning that as Covid-19 restrictions lift that it is ‘almost inevitable’ that the rates of other illnesses will rise.
ith a return of the winter flu virus anticipated in the weeks ahead, the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) has urged people to avail of the flu vaccine as early as possible.
Speaking as pharmacies nationwide begin offering flu vaccines Dermot Twomey, President of the Irish Pharmacy Union, said: “As Covid-19 restrictions lift and we return to a more normal way of life, it is almost inevitable that the rates of other illnesses will rise.
“We have all learned so much throughout the pandemic about how to prevent the spread of infections and it will be important that we remember these lessons during the upcoming flu season.”
He said that flu is a highly-infectious illness that can result in a very serious infection.
“Last year, due to lockdowns, social distancing and other public health measures, there were no cases of flu recorded in Ireland. We are unlikely to escape again this year, when you consider that over the five previous years Ireland experienced an annual average of over 2,000 hospitalisations and close to 100 deaths as a result of flu.
“Ireland is close to top of the world when it comes to COVID vaccination rates. This is a testament to everyone’s determination to protect themselves and their community. We must muster the same spirit and protect ourselves from the upcoming flu season.
It has been shown that the most effective time to get the flu vaccine is before flu begins spreading in your community, according to Mr Twomey.
Therefore, early vaccination is highly recommended, particularly for those in at-risk groups, he said.
Those deemed at risk include:
- persons aged 65 years and older;
- persons 10-64 with a chronic illness requiring regular follow up;
- those who are immunosuppressed due to disease or treatment;
- all cancer patients;
- pregnant women.
Mr Twomey pointed out that flu vaccination is required annually. “Each flu is different and therefore an annual vaccine is required. There is no guarantee that a flu vaccine you received in previous years offers you any protection from the strains of the virus that will hit Ireland during this year’s flu season.”
Mr Twomey added that this year marks the tenth anniversary of pharmacists offering flu vaccines. Last winter, over 300,000 people received a flu vaccine in a community pharmacy.
There are a number of differences between the flu and a ‘cold’.
Flu symptoms come on suddenly with fevers and muscle aches, while a cold usually starts gradually with symptoms of a sore throat and a blocked or runny nose.
Meanwhile, the HSE said earlier this week that this 2021-2022 flu season, the vaccine being offered to people aged over 65 is called Fluad Tetra.
This is an adjuvanted vaccine. That means it contains an ingredient that stimulates the immune system, making it more effective against flu in people in older people.
It is being offered in Ireland for the first time this year, but a similar vaccine has been used for several years in various countries including the UK and USA.
It said that those aged 65 years and over can contact their GP or local pharmacy to make an appointment.
People aged 65 year and over who live in long-term residential care facilities will be offered this vaccine where they live.
The HSE said the majority of healthcare workers are being offered their flu vaccine at work or through some GPs and pharmacies.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, said: “As we emerge from the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is vital to remember that there are other viruses that can take an enormous toll upon the most at-risk in our society, as well as those working in our healthcare system.”
The flu vaccine doesn’t protect against Covid-19. Experts say it is important to get both the flu vaccine and the Covid-19 vaccine. This is because flu and Covid-19 are caused by different viruses.
Some people are being offered an additional Covid-19 vaccine or booster at this time too. Additional doses are being offered to people with weakened immune system.
Booster doses will shortly be offered to those over 65 living in residential care or those over 80 living in the community.
Covid-19 vaccines and the flu vaccine can be taken separately or together.
Every year around the world, flu causes between 3m and 5m cases of severe disease and up to 646,000 deaths.
However, extremely low levels of flu were recorded across Europe during the last influenza season as a result of Covid-19 pandemic public health measures.
Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the roll out of the vaccination program and the rate of Coronavirus cases Ireland