The HSE has launched its first flu vaccine campaign aimed directly at children.
This year, children aged between two and 12 are being offered the flu vaccine free of charge. This can be administered by a GP or pharmacist and involves a spray up the child's nose (nasal vaccine) rather than an injection.
The aim of the vaccine is to reduce people's risk of contracting flu and spreading it to others this winter. This will lead to fewer people requiring GP or hospital treatment.
This is particularly important over the coming months as health services are already under immense pressure as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Dr Colm Henry, chief clinical officer of the HSE, the flu vaccine for children is "very safe".
"It has been given to children in the US since 2003 and in the UK since 2013. The flu vaccine helps your child's immune system to produce antibodies that fight infection, and it will not result in your child getting the flu. If your child has had the flu vaccine and they come into contact with flu virus, these antibodies attack the virus and stop children from getting sick," he explained.
Symptoms of flu in children include a high temperature, muscle pains, headache and fatigue. They may also have a dry cough and a sore throat, and this can make it difficult to differentiate between flu and COVID-19.
Children carry the flu virus in their system longer than adults do, and they can spread the flu virus easily to other children and to vulnerable people around them, such as elderly grandparents.
Children are also more likely than adults to suffer severe complications of flu. Those with chronic health conditions are most at risk of experiencing serious complications.
Over the last 10 years in Ireland, 4,750 children have had to be admitted to hospital because of flu complications. Of these, 183 ended up in intensive care, and sadly, 41 children died.
Dr Chantal Migone, a specialist in public health medicine with the HSE's National Immunisation Office explained that getting the vaccine is quick and painless.
"Your GP or pharmacist will give the vaccine using a spray up your child's nose. They will spray once in each nostril. There is no need to take a deep breath or sniff, your child can breathe normally while they are getting the vaccine.
"The vaccine is absorbed very quickly and it is pain free. So, if your child sneezes or gets a runny nose after the vaccine, there is no need to repeat the dose, or to worry that it won't work," she said.
She noted that the most common side-effects are mild. For example, your child may get a runny or blocked nose, headache or muscle aches.
"Some children get a fever (temperature) after the vaccine, but it is usually mild and goes away on its own," Dr Migone added.
Adrian and Nora O'Hare's daughter, Aralynn, contracted the flu in February 2018 when she was four years old. Aralynn was an active and healthy child, but after developing a bacterial infection on her lungs as a complication of the flu, she spent a month in ICU in Crumlin.
Her parents are urging others to avail of the children's flu vaccine this year.
"Our whole family will get the flu vaccine this year, and I would encourage anyone to get their kids vaccinated against the flu. It's so quick and now that it's free, there is no excuse. If it can save one family what Aralynn and our family went through, it's so worth it," her parents said.
The HSE has purchased 600,000 doses of the nasal flu vaccine for children aged between two and 12.
A very small number of children will not be able to get the nasal flu vaccine for medical reasons, such as:
-If they are taking medicines called salicylates, which include aspirin
-If they have severe asthma or if they have been wheezy or needed their inhaler more than usual in the three days before the vaccination
-If they have a severely weakened immune system because of certain medical conditions or treatments.
If your child cannot get the flu vaccine using a nasal spray, your GP or pharmacist will talk to you about giving your child a different flu vaccine, which is given by injection.
The HSE has developed easy-to-read guides on the flu vaccine in English and translated them into a number of languages, including Arabic, French, German, Romanian, Russian, Slovak and Czech.
It has also worked with the COVID World Service to produce videos with GPs around the country. To view these resources, click here.
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