I propose to take Questions Nos. 135 to 139, inclusive, together.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) organises consultations twice annually with an advisory group of experts to analyse influenza virus surveillance data generated by the WHO Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System, and issues recommendations on the composition of the influenza vaccines for the following influenza season. Influenza vaccine is most effective when circulating viruses are well-matched with viruses contained in vaccines due to their constant evolving nature. These recommendations are used by national vaccine regulatory agencies and pharmaceutical companies to develop, produce and license influenza vaccines.
The influenza vaccine purchased by HSE is based on WHO advice on the composition of influenza virus vaccines for use in the northern hemisphere influenza season. The WHO issued its advice on 22 February 2018, recommending that quadrivalent vaccines for use in the 2018/19 northern hemisphere influenza season contain the following:
- an A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus;
- an A/Singapore/INFIMH-16-0019/2016 (H3N2)-like virus;
- a B/Colorado/06/2017-like virus (B/Victoria/2/87 lineage); and
- a B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus (B/Yamagata/16/88 lineage).
It also recommended that the influenza B virus component of trivalent vaccines for use in the 2018/19 northern hemisphere influenza season be a B/Colorado/06/2017-like virus of the B/Victoria/2/87-lineage. The trivalent vaccine used in Ireland is the most widely used influenza vaccine in Europe and is providing good protection against the influenza A strain viruses that are circulating this season as the majority of hospitalisations are associated with influenza A.
The WHO will shortly be holding a consultation and information meeting in Beijing, China on the composition of influenza virus vaccines for use in the 2019/20 northern hemisphere influenza season between the 18 to 20 February. After this meeting the WHO will announce its recommendation for the composition of influenza virus vaccines for use in the 2019/20 northern hemisphere influenza season for both quadrivalent and trivalent vaccines. The Flu vaccine purchased by HSE will be based on this advice.
The HSE National Immunisation Office and HSE Procurement are responsible for the purchase of influenza vaccine. To ensure adequate vaccine supply, this tender process must be completed 9 months in advance of the first delivery into Ireland by the end of August as it takes about 6 months to manufacture sufficient vaccine quantity for each season. It is intended that a quadrivalent vaccine will be used for 2019/20 and a procurement process through the HSE is currently underway. The composition of the vaccine will be based on the advices of the WHO for the 2019/20 northern hemisphere influenza season which is due to be announced in a few weeks’ time.
The seasonal influenza vaccine is recommended for the following at risk groups:
- persons who are 65 years of age and over;
- pregnant women;
- persons who have a long-term health condition;
- persons who work in healthcare;
- persons living in a nursing home or other long-term care facility; and
- persons who are in regular contact with pigs, poultry or water fowl.
As of 27 January 2019 (week 4) there were 1,066 confirmed influenza related hospitalised cases compared to 1,825 for the same time period last year. The number of confirmed deaths for week 4, 2019 is 25 compared to 112 for the same time period last year.
The 2017/18 influenza season was a severe season with a high impact placed on the Irish health system. During the 2017/18 influenza season, 255 influenza related cases were reported as having died, the highest number of influenza deaths recorded in any season. The total number of confirmed influenza cases hospitalised during the 2017/18 influenza season was 4,713 which exceeded all previous seasons on record since surveillance began in 2000.
Vaccination still remains the most effective means of preventing infection caused by seasonal influenza viruses and can reduce severe disease that can lead to hospitalisation and even death.
The HSE reviews and updates its influenza plans annually, including its communication strategy, taking into account the lessons learned from previous years, with a view to targeting key groups in order to create the greatest impact in terms of people receiving the influenza vaccine.