Northern Ireland news

Plans to give more than 20,000 children flu vaccine thrown into chaos by late-notice school closure

Concern at the potential dangers of flu cases during the pandemic has led to health officials securing extra free vaccines this year

PLANS to give more than 20,000 children the flu vaccine next week have been thrown into chaos by the late-notice closure of schools.

Health officials are frantically trying to make alternative arrangements for the inoculations which had been scheduled to take place in schools the week before half-term.

Among the revised options offered to parents have been taking their children to appointments at council health facilities, such as Girdwood Community Hub in north Belfast.

It is understood others will have to wait until school resumes and there is space in the existing vaccine programme.

All primary school children and those in Year 8 of secondary school are being offered the flu vaccine this year- with children aged two and over being given it at their GP surgery.

It is given as a spray up each nostril.

The Public Health Agency has been stressing to parents that is is especially important for them to to make sure their child is inoculated this year because of the

coronavirus pandemic.

"Other viruses such as flu can also cause serious illness and if people got both Covid-19 and flu together they could become extremely unwell," they wrote to parents last month.

"So it is more important than ever that your child gets a flu vaccination this year."

A study in England performed during the first wave of the pandemic suggests that those infected with both flu and Covid-19 had a risk of death that was six times greater than the general population.

The figures show 43 per cent of those `co-infected' died, compared with 27 per cent of those who only tested positive for coronavirus.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said officials are working with their education counterparts to ensure the vaccines are administered as soon as possible.

"In light of the recent announcements work is currently under way to minimise disruption to the childhood immunisation programme in Northern Ireland," she said.

"There are 158 schools (approx. 24,200 children) scheduled to receive the flu vaccine next week.

"The Public Health Agency is working with the school nursing team and Education Authority to clarify arrangements.

"Parents and guardians of children who are affected will be contacted in due course.

In addition to protecting the children who receive the inoculation, the purpose of the vaccination programme is to reduce further spread to sick young people who may not be able to tolerate the dose and adults.

Concern at the potential dangers of flu cases during the pandemic has led to health officials securing extra free vaccines this year so household contacts of those who received shielding letters during the pandemic can also be protected, as well as staff in independent care homes and the Year 8 pupils.

Pharmacies have also been offering the vaccine, with some businesses availing of this option for staff.

However, an increase in demand has seen many pharmacists run out of stock just days after opening up appointments.

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