Secretary General, Irish Pharmacy Union
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and we head into flu season, we must recognise collective responsibility to provide immunity against flu to protect others.
This year marks the tenth season in which Irish community pharmacists have been involved in the HSE’s flu vaccination campaign, and the first year that pharmacies can offer flu vaccination to children as young as two years of age.
Allowing pharmacists to administer the flu vaccine has been hugely successful: increased awareness of the vaccine through the promotion of the service by pharmacies has led to an overall increase of 60%, with 1.1 million vaccines distributed last year.
COVID-19 and the flu vaccine
In the midst of the current coronavirus pandemic, it is more important than ever that all at-risk patients receive a flu vaccination. As the world waits with hope for a vaccine against COVID-19, it should be seen as everyone’s responsibility to build collective immunity against flu. The best way to do this is through widespread vaccination.
Ireland performs well by EU comparisons but we still fall short of the target of 75% of people over the age of 65 availing of the vaccine. Making the vaccine free for everyone and improving its accessibility would send a powerful message about its importance to public health.
Increased awareness of the vaccine through the promotion of the service by pharmacies has led to an overall increase of 60%, with 1.1 million vaccines distributed last year.
Barriers to uptake of vaccines need to be addressed
The Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) has strongly asserted that, for a universal vaccination programme to be successful, barriers to uptake must be identified and eliminated. For example, access to the vaccine must be made as simple as possible and it should be universally State-funded. The IPU has written to the Minister for Health, calling on Government to make Ireland the first country in Europe to provide free flu vaccination for everyone over the age of six months. While we welcomed the recent Government decision to make the flu vaccine available for free to all children aged 2-12 and all at risk groups, we will continue to advocate to extend further.
Offering flu vaccine in community setting
We can increase vaccination levels by offering it to wider groups of people in a community setting.
Offering the vaccine at residential services and workplaces would significantly increase uptake and help build a herd immunity.
Reducing the strain on the health system
The flu vaccine is the best defence against flu and Government needs to aim for seasonal flu prevention for the entire population. If we can prevent flu from overwhelming the health system during the winter, the savings will far exceed the cost of a properly funded universal vaccination policy.
Community pharmacists have been at the forefront in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and will help in the battle against flu and coronavirus this winter. At present, we can’t stop coronavirus but, given the resources, we can try to stop the flu.