The Government has expanded the provision of seasonal influenza vaccination without charge to all of those in the HSE-defined at-risk groups and to all children aged from 2 to 12 years. Vaccines are being administered via GPs and pharmacists, as in previous years.
This season, 1.95 million doses of influenza vaccine have been purchased, double the amount administered last season. The HSE has procured 1.35 million doses of the Quadrivalent Influenza Vaccine (QIV), made available to all persons in an at-risk group and aged from 6 months up. In addition, the HSE has purchased 600,000 doses of the Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine (LAIV), which is delivered via nasal drops rather than by injection and is being made available to all children aged from 2 to 12 years old inclusive.
This expanded programme will ensure that those most vulnerable to the effects of influenza will have access without charges. This is in line with the advice of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee and represents a significant step forward in providing vaccination without charges.
International markets for influenza vaccine are extremely tight this year, and in Ireland this resulted in deliveries from the manufacturer taking longer than intended. However, the full quantity of vaccine ordered has now been received. Vaccines are distributed in two-week cycles. 950,000 doses of the injected vaccine have already been distributed to GPs, pharmacists, and healthcare settings. This is 10% more than the amount distributed at the same time in 2019 and is equal to almost the full amount administered in the 2019/20 season. The quantities distributed to GPs and pharmacists has been based on the orders from the same sources last year, in order to ensure an equitable distribution. The remaining 400,000 doses will be distributed to GPs and pharmacists in the coming weeks.
Given the difficult international market for flu vaccines this year, it is unlikely that any further increase in supply will be possible. Demand for vaccination this year is unprecedented. This is the case across Europe and beyond. Given the finite supply available, it is important that even the increased quantities available in Ireland are targeted where they will have the greatest impact.
The new nasal (LAIV) influenza vaccine programme for children is well underway across the country. A high uptake of the vaccine in children has been shown to reduce the spread of influenza, helping to protect others in the community. The full quantity of LAIV ordered has also now been received and is being distributed to GPs and pharmacists.
Given the importance of increasing the level of uptake of the flu vaccine this year, GPs and pharmacists are incentivised not only to deliver vaccination to the expanded groups, but to actively seek out relevant patients and deliver vaccinations in a programmatic way, such as through dedicated flu vaccination clinics. The fees payable by the HSE to GPs and pharmacists for vaccine administration have been set in recognition of logistical challenges and possible need to establish vaccination clinics.