Northern Ireland winter vaccination programme now under way
Northern Ireland's winter vaccination programme, which includes the Covid-19 booster and flu jab, is now available to care home residents and staff.
The programme will see both vaccines offered to more than one million people.
The vaccines help to prolong protection already received from initial Covid-19 vaccinations, while the flu vaccine is needed every year as the antibodies that protect from flu, decline over time, and flu strains change from year to year.
The majority of vaccines will be delivered via GPs and community pharmacies and each will have their own arrangements for inviting eligible groups and booking vaccine appointments.
The programme will be completed over the period September to early December.
People who are eligible for vaccination should receive an invite from their GP surgery or they can enquire if the vaccines are available via a community pharmacy.
Parents of children in primary one to year 12 should look out for the consent forms coming home and sign and return them.
Each trust will also have their own arrangements for clinics, which are only for front line HSC workers and a small number of other eligible groups, such as those under the age of 18 and pregnant women.
Those eligible for the Covid-19 autumn booster will largely be offered a booster dose of either the Comirnaty bivalent (Pfizer/BioNTech) vaccine or Spikevax bivalent (Moderna) vaccine.
Dr Joanne McClean, Director of Public Health at the Public Health Agency (PHA), said: "The programme which has already begun in care homes will be rolled out over the coming weeks and months to other eligible groups via GPs, community pharmacies, HSC Trusts and schools.
"I would urge everyone who falls into an eligible group to get ready for winter by taking up the offer of free vaccination when available," she said.
Dr McClean said flu activity has been "extremely low globally over the last two winters, mainly due to Covid-19 prevention measures.
"As a result, a lower level of population immunity against flu is expected this year, plus the strains change continually.
"This coupled with Covid-19, which hasn’t gone away, could potentially result in a real health threat, particularly for vulnerable members of our community".
She added: "Vaccines are the most effective way to prevent infectious diseases as they teach our immune system how to recognise and fight viruses.
"Being vaccinated against both viruses will not only help to protect you and those around you from flu and Covid-19, but will help protect everyone from a potentially devastating double threat this winter which could also impact on the services within our Health and Social Care system".