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Head of the HSE National Immunisation Office Dr Brenda Corcoran told the Medical Independent (MI) that up to 820,000 vaccines had been distributed to 2,500 centres nationwide. This compared to a total 770,000 vaccines distributed during the 2015/2016 flu season.
The HSE does not expect to distribute many more vaccines in the coming months, as most distribution occurred in September and October, with another slight increase in distribution after Christmas.
Dr Corcoran said there should be no shortage of vaccines anywhere in the country.
As of 26 January, some 36 deaths and 1,009 hospitalisations associated with flu had been reported to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC).
Dr Corcoran said this season’s flu vaccine campaign placed a large emphasis on healthcare workers.
“There was an initiative to have what you call ‘peer vaccinators’. Up until now, the only people that could give the flu vaccine are doctors, nurses who have a prescription from a doctor or pharmacists.
“Nurses were trained so that they would be able to give the vaccine without having to have a prescription from a doctor. A number of nurse vaccinators, peer vaccinators, were trained and they work in pairs of two via acute hospitals and some of the long-stay units… that initiative was for the healthcare workers,” Dr Corcoran said. Focus was also placed on flu champions in hospitals, where one person or a group of people encouraged colleagues to get the vaccine.
According to the HPSC mid-flu season interim survey, uptake among healthcare workers was at 28.3 per cent, compared to an average uptake of 22.5 per cent for the whole of the 2015/2016 season.
The HSE set a target of a 40 per cent vaccine uptake among healthcare workers and some hospitals had already reached this target, Dr Corcoran stated.
Accessibility problems and common misconceptions around why healthcare workers should get the vaccine are to blame for low uptake levels, according to national and international research, she added.
The Department of Health noted that at least 20 per cent of healthcare workers are infected with flu annually.
Vaccination of healthcare workers has been shown to reduce flu-related deaths by 40 per cent, stated a spokesperson.