The HSE has issued a warning over a rise in winter viruses and has urged people to get vaccinated against flu and Covid-19.

They said there is an "expected imminent" rise in the flu with the peak flu season this year expected to fall between mid-December and into January.

People with long term health conditions and healthcare workers have been told that it is "particularly important" for them to avail of the free vaccines.

The vaccines are available for free for eligible groups from participating GP practices and pharmacies and both vaccines can be given at the same time.

READ MORE: HSE urges pregnant women to vaccinate against major diseases this winter

Dr Éamonn O’Moore, Director of National Health Protection, HSE said: “We are concerned that the uptake of the vaccines so far remains low, and that this may have a serious impact on public health in the coming weeks and months. There is no room for complacency at this point.

“Our hospitals are already feeling pressure from a significant level of RSV, particularly our paediatric services. The winter in the southern hemisphere saw very high levels of flu, and this adds to the concern about our own winter. We are already seeing early signs that flu levels are rising and we expect it to be reaching its peak from mid-December and into January. COVID-19 levels are currently stable but we are seeing people seriously ill with COVID-19, including in our ICUs now, and around half of those have not received boosters in the last six months.

“There is still time for people to get their vaccines, it takes around two weeks for the vaccines to take effect so now is the time to act.

"We know the lower the vaccination uptake, the more people we will see in our hospitals, people who could otherwise be at home. We will see busier hospitals and increased pressure on services and staff. I am urging everyone eligible, including healthcare workers, to avail of the winter vaccines. We have reached a point where uptake needs to increase urgently to protect yourselves, and in doing so, your loved ones and our health service.”

Dr Lucy Jessop, HSE National Immunisation Lead, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, added “We are moving into the start of the rise of flu and COVID season, with all our projections pointing towards a multipathogenic winter. A significant rise in respiratory illnesses over the coming weeks is expected.

“We are growing increasingly concerned by the disappointingly low vaccine uptake figures. Only 1 in 10 people who are immunocompromised have had their vaccine. Without it, they are much more vulnerable to serious illness from flu and COVID-19. Uptake among heath and care workers is also lower than expected, which is alarming as they will be caring for patients, many of whom will have these viruses and we want to make sure they are protected.

“With this in mind we are urging everyone who is eligible, including older people, carers and vulnerable groups, to book their appointments for both the flu and COVID vaccines. They are available free of charge from participating GPs and Pharmacies; and HCWs can also get their vaccines at workplace clinics. The vaccines offer the best protection against these viruses this winter.”

Who is eligible for the free vaccines?

A COVID-19 vaccine is now recommended for:

  • Everyone aged 50 and over,
  • Everyone over the age of five living with a long term health condition,
  • Those who are immunocompromised and all healthcare workers.

For eligible people an interval of at least 3 months since COVID-19 infection or your last COVID-19 vaccine is recommended before people receive their autumn/winter COVID-19 vaccine.

The flu vaccine is available free of charge to:

  • Everyone aged 65 and older
  • All those living with long term health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, respiratory illnesses and who may be immunocompromised,
  • Health and care workers
  • Children’s flu vaccine is available free of charge to all children aged 2-12.

People aged 65 and over and people aged 2 to 64 years in an at-risk group should also check with their GP if they should receive a pneumococcal vaccine this winter. It can be given at the same time as the flu or COVID-19 vaccine.

If anyone needs to check when they had their last vaccine or needs assistance in booking a vaccination appointments please call HSELive on 1800 700 700.

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