Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Questions (525)

Fiona O'Loughlin

Question:

525. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Health his plans to promote increased uptake of the 'flu vaccine across all categories of persons and not only those deemed at risk; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10163/18]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Health)

In Ireland the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) an independent committee of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland which comprises experts in a number of specialties including infectious diseases, paediatrics, and public health makes recommendation on vaccination policy in Ireland. Their recommendations are based on the prevalence of the relevant disease in Ireland and international best practice in relation to immunisation. This season (2017/18) the HSE procured the trivalent inactivated seasonal influenza vaccine for all those in the recommended at risk groups and health care workers and carers. The trivalent vaccine used in Ireland is the most widely used influenza vaccine in Europe.

NIAC is considering the need to expand the current recommendations for influenza vaccine, including the potential community wide benefit of extending recommendations to include all children.

Initial evidence suggests that the vaccine provides higher protection against the Influenza A strains than recent years (H3N2 & H1N1). While it is less effective against the B strains predominating this year, people who received the flu. Vaccination remains the most effective means of preventing infection by seasonal influenza viruses and can reduce severe disease that can lead to hospitalisation and death.

The influenza vaccine purchased by HSE is based on WHO advice on the composition of influenza virus vaccines for use in the 2017/8 northern hemisphere Flu season which issued on 2 March 2017. It recommended that trivalent vaccines for use in the 2017-2018 northern hemisphere influenza season contain the following:

- an A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus;

- an A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 (H3N2)-like virus; and

- a B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus.

Influenza vaccine is most effective when circulating viruses are well-matched with viruses contained in vaccines. Due to the constant evolving nature of influenza viruses, the WHO Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System – a system of National Influenza Centres and WHO Collaborating Centres around the world – continuously monitors the influenza viruses circulating in humans and updates the composition of influenza vaccines twice a year. For many years, WHO has updated its recommendation on the composition of the vaccine (trivalent) that targets the three most representative virus types in circulation (two subtypes of influenza A viruses and one influenza B virus) and since the 2013–2014 northern hemisphere influenza season, a fourth component is recommended to support quadrivalent vaccine development. Quadrivalent vaccines include a 2nd influenza B virus in addition to the viruses in trivalent vaccines.

The HSE Communications Plan which launched on the 2 October 2017 had an initial focus on Health Care Workers. Radio adverts commenced on the 9 October and ran for three weeks. There were further radio ads over the holiday period when ILI rates exceeded the baseline threshold for the first time. People aged 65 and over as well as pregnant women were the primary audiences for the radio campaign, which also reached medically at risk groups and Health Care Workers as they make up a more generic radio audience. Digital advertising and promotions targeting risk groups, the over 65s, pregnant women and healthcare workers and likewise there will be options for further campaigns when flu levels go above the threshold.

The HSE “Under the Weather” website gives advice to people on what to do if they suspect they are developing influenza. Health is one of the themes of the cross-sectoral ‘Be Winter Ready’ campaign which launched on 8 November 2017.

The HSE reviews and updates its influenza plans, including the communications strategy, taking into account the lessons learned from previous years, with a view to targeting key groups to get the greatest impact in terms of people receiving the influenza vaccine.