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Northern Ireland flu vaccination programme to be expanded

The annual flu vaccination programme is once again being expanded to protect the vulnerable and ease winter pressures as Covid-19 pressures continue.

The programme is to be extended to cover all secondary school children from years 8 to year 12. In addition, those aged 50 to 64 will also be eligible to receive the jab again this year.

The vaccination programme officially begins on 1 October 2021 however it is expected that GP’s will commence vaccinations later this month once they have received their initial orders.

Health Minister Robin Swann said:

“Last year saw the roll out of the largest HSC influenza vaccination programme ever, which led to the best vaccine uptake rates ever achieved. I would like to extend our thanks to all those involved for their hard work during very challenging times.

“Also as a result of non-pharmaceutical interventions in place for COVID-19 (such as mask-wearing, physical and social distancing, and restricted international travel) influenza activity levels were extremely low globally in 2020 to 2021.”

Dr McBride cautioned however:

“As a result of the low influenza activity levels last winter a lower level of population immunity against influenza is expected in 2021 to 2022. In the situation where social mixing and social contact return towards pre-pandemic norms, it is expected that winter 2021 to 2022 will be the first winter in the UK when seasonal influenza virus and other respiratory viruses such as RSV in children will co-circulate alongside COVID-19.

“The timing and magnitude of potential influenza and COVID-19 infection waves for winter 2021 to 2022 are currently unknown, however modelling indicates the 2021 to 2022 influenza season in the UK could be up to 50% larger than typically seen and it is also possible that the 2021 to 2022 influenza season will begin earlier than usual.

“Influenza vaccination is therefore an important priority this coming autumn to reduce morbidity and mortality associated with influenza, and to reduce hospitalisations during a time when the HSC may also be managing significant winter outbreaks of COVID-19. Please keep following the public advice to reduce the transmission of influenza and COVID-19, please get the vaccines and protect yourself, those that matter to you and the health service.”

The Minister concluded:

“I do not underestimate the challenges involved in delivering the flu programme to tens of thousands of children and adults over a short period, while ensuring public health measures and social distancing advice is adhered to, but it is essential that we achieve as high an uptake rate as possible.”

The extension of the flu vaccination programme follows the recent announcement of the roll out of the covid booster vaccine as Trust mobile teams will being visiting all residential care homes to vaccinate residents and staff and Trusts will also begin to vaccinate frontline health and social care staff.**

By early October it is expected GPs will start to invite their oldest patients in to receive their booster dose as they pass the six month mark from receiving their second dose, while community pharmacies start by offering vaccination to non-Trust employed frontline staff such as Domiciliary Care workers etc.

Therefore, those eligible for influenza vaccination in 2021 to 2022 are:

• all preschool children aged 2 to 4 years on 1 September 2021 • all primary and secondary (up to year 12) school children • those aged 6 months to 2 years and 16 to 49 years in clinical risk groups • pregnant women • those aged 50 years and over • those in long-stay residential care homes • carers • close contacts of immunocompromised individuals

**Frontline health and social care workers employed by:

• Health and Social Care Trusts including NIAS

• community HSC providers including GP practices, pharmacies, dentists

• registered independent sector residential care or nursing home

• registered domiciliary care providers

• voluntary managed hospice provider

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