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winter period

HSE warns of public health risk due to low uptake of winter Covid-19 and flu vaccines

The executive expressed concerns over an expected rise in infections from both viruses during the winter period.

THE HSE HAS urged all eligible people to get vaccinated against the flu and Covid-19 viruses amid concerns due to low uptake rates.

The executive also expressed concerns over an expected rise in infections from both viruses during the winter period.

Commenting in a statement on the low the uptake rates, Dr Éamonn O’Moore, Director of National Health Protection with the HSE, said that the low uptake could “have a serious impact on public health in the coming weeks and months”.

“There is no room for complacency at this point,” he said.

 “Our hospitals are already feeling pressure from a significant level of RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), particularly our paediatric services.

The winter in the southern hemisphere saw very high levels of flu, and this adds to the concern about our own winter. We are already seeing early signs that flu levels are rising and we expect it to be reaching its peak from mid-December and into January.

Current health advice recommends that everyone aged 50 and over should get the Autumn/Winter Covid-19 booster, along with everyone over five with a long term health condition, those those who are immunocompromised and all healthcare workers.

A flu vaccine is available for free to everyone aged 65 and older as well as all living with long term health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, respiratory illnesses and who may be immunocompromised, along with health and care workers. Both vaccines can be given at the same time.

The children’s flu vaccine is available free of charge to all children aged 2-12.

Currently, uptake rates among eligible people remain low. 

As of the start of this month, 11.5% of HSE-employed healthcare workers have received the Covid-19 autumn booster vaccine and 24.3% have had the flu vaccine

Meanwhile just under half (49%) of people aged 70 and over and 18% of those aged 50-69 have had a Covid-19 autumn booster vaccine up to 12 November.

Just 10% of people who are immunocompromised have had their COVID-19 vaccine this winter, according to the HSE.

Close to 60% of people aged 65 and older have had their annual flu vaccine, along with 9.5% of eligible children aged 2-12 years and 18% of those aged 50-64 years.

Dr Éamonn O’Moore said that while Covid-19 levels were currently stable, hospitals are starting to see “people seriously ill with Covid-19, including in our ICUs now, and around half of those have not received boosters in the last six months”.

“There is still time for people to get their vaccines, it takes around two weeks for the vaccines to take effect so now is the time to act,” he said.

“We know the lower the vaccination uptake, the more people we will see in our hospitals, people who could otherwise be at home.

“We will see busier hospitals and increased pressure on services and staff.

I am urging everyone eligible, including healthcare workers, to avail of the winter vaccines. We have reached a point where uptake needs to increase urgently to protect yourselves, and in doing so, your loved ones and our health service.

The HSE advises anyone who needs to check when they had their last vaccine or needs assistance in booking a vaccination appointments to call HSELive on 1800 700 700.