04/10/2006

Winter flu-vaccine programme launched

Northern Ireland's Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride, has today launched the Department of Health's free winter flu vaccination programme.

Stocks of the flu vaccine are now in place in Northern Ireland and ready to be administered to "at risk" groups.

The flu campaign, which will run from October through to December, is aimed at all those in 'at-risk' groups to ensure they take advantage of the vaccine on offer and so that they are better prepared to fight off infection.

Speaking as he launched the flu vaccination programme in Hillsborough Health Centre, Dr McBride said: "Flu is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It cannot therefore be treated by antibiotics. We are faced with the onset of flu at this time of year every year, but the virus is always changing so it is important for people to receive the latest vaccine and to receive it well in advance of any outbreak.

"I urge everyone who receives an invitation from their GP to be immunised, to respond positively to it, in particular the over 65 year olds. Last year we added carers to the 'at-risk' groups and we would encourage these people to get the vaccination this year too."

People in 'at-risk' groups include:
  • People over 65 years old - even if they feel fit and healthy
  • Children and adults who suffer from any of the following: chronic heart conditions; chronic chest conditions e.g. Asthma; chronic liver disease; chronic kidney disease; diabetes; lowered immunity due to disease or treatment such as steroids or cancer therapy; any other serious medical condition
  • Children who have previously been admitted to hospital with a chest infection
  • Carers (who are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person) and people who live in a residential or nursing home.
Dr McBride continued: "Apart from being a very unpleasant illness for those who catch it, outbreaks of flu place great pressure on health services. By reducing the numbers who contract the flu, we can ease the pressure on GP surgeries and on hospital services during the winter months. Anything that can be done to reduce these pressures is very worthwhile."

This is now the sixth year of Northern Ireland's flu immunisation programme.

2005/2006 saw the highest ever uptake of the flu vaccine with 76.8% of over-65s and 80.9% of those under-65 in 'at risk' groups.

These figures exceed the targets set for Northern Ireland and represent a significant public health achievement.

The launch of the Winter Flu vaccination coincides with Age Awareness Week.

(EF/SP)

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