Northern Irish GPs will be able to offer free flu vaccinations to those aged 50-64 from December if there is still stock, starting with the oldest.
Northern Ireland has become the last UK nation to expand its flu vaccination programme this year as part of efforts to reduce health system pressures amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
In addition to the regular cohorts eligible for free flu vaccination – everyone aged 65 and over, pregnant women, those aged under 65 years of age in clinical ‘at risk’ groups, all children aged 2 to 4, all primary school pupils, and frontline health and social care workers, the following groups should be targeted from 1 October:
- Patients who were shielding from Covid-19;
- Staff in independent care homes; and
- School children in year 8 i.e. those who will be in the first year of secondary school from September 2020.
Meanwhile, household contacts of those who received shielding letters during the pandemic can request vaccination via their GP.
Commenting on the expanded campaign, NI chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride said: ‘Flu can present with similar symptoms to Covid-19 and therefore has the potential to complicate the contact tracing and surveillance programme.
‘There is also emerging evidence that co-infection with Covid-19 and flu may lead to a more severe illness. Reducing the pressure caused by seasonal flu will help preserve the capacity of the health and social care system to manage any future waves of Covid-19.’
The programme in Northern Ireland formally starts on 1 October, but it is expected that vaccine deliveries will arrive from the end of this month. If this is the case, the scheme can be brought forward to September, after GPs have received their initial orders.
As well as through practices, the vaccine will be available via the schools programme and Trust vaccination schemes for all healthcare staff.
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