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Concerns mounting over potential severity of winter influenza season

Concerns have been raised within the HSE that a reduction in people’s “genetic memory” of seasonal influenza may lead to a more problematic winter season. Meeting minutes of the HSE’s flu planning steering group on 23 June noted that “people’s genetic memory of flu is now likely to be significantly reduced so if flu circulates, the severity of illness could have increased”.

The minutes were seen by the Medical Independent (MI) following a Freedom of Information request. The discussion took place in the context of the lack of a significant influenza season in 2020-21. The meeting also “noted the importance of continuing flu messaging with the general public and the importance of respiratory etiquette as a first barrier to flu”. At a prior meeting in May, a report from the acute section of the health service noted there was “a common emerging question”, which was outlined in the minutes as follows: “Why not ‘piggy-back’ flu vaccination onto the Covid-19 vaccination programme and centres?” A HSE spokesperson told MI it was “in the advanced stages of planning the 2021-22 influenza vaccination programme.

It is anticipated immunisations will begin in early October and will be available free of charge to adults and children (from two years old) at risk of flu and its complications.” Separately, some doctors have raised concerns that the planned easing of Covid-19 restrictions – especially measures around mask wearing – could lead to a particularly challenging winter season. Government plans for late October include the easing or removal of rules on physical distancing and mask wearing in many circumstances. However, masks will still be required on public transport, in healthcare settings, and shops.

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