Notwithstanding a problem with one supplier that affected supplies worldwide, ample supplies of vaccine have been secured for this country for the 2004-05 influenza season. Some 200,000 doses of 'flu vaccine were distributed around the country in early September 2004. A further 192,680 doses were distributed during the first week in October. Another 200,000 doses will be delivered later this month. This compares favourably with last year when approximately 470,000 doses of vaccine had been distributed by the middle of November.
The vaccine is available free of charge from general practitioners to medical cardholders who are deemed to be at risk of serious illness as a result of contracting the disease. Persons in the "at risk" group who do not have a medical card can obtain the vaccine free of charge, however, the fee for administering the vaccine in such cases is a matter between the general practitioner and the patient.
The "at risk" groups include persons aged 65 years or older, those with specific chronic illness such as chronic heart, lung or kidney disease, and those with a suppressed immune system. For persons in the "at risk" groups, complications arising from influenza such as pneumonia are common and can be fatal particularly in the elderly.
My Department asked health boards on 23 September last to advise GPs to concentrate their efforts on ensuring that patients at greatest risk receive priority vaccination. I have read the details provided by the Deputy in relation to a person in County Waterford who fits the "at risk" criteria and is a medical card holder. I am concerned that this person found it necessary to purchase 'flu vaccine privately on 8 October 2004. At that stage, 392,680 doses had been distributed around the country, that is, 63,280 more doses than the same time last year. Having regard to the circumstances involved, my Department is writing to the chief executive officer of the South Eastern Health Board asking that he arrange for a refund of the costs incurred by the person in question in purchasing 'flu vaccine.