Thousands of doses of the children's flu vaccine could expire due to a lack of demand, the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) has claimed.
It is calling on the Government to expand eligibility for this free vaccine to teenagers.
All children aged between two and 12 years can avail of a nasal flu vaccine free of charge this year. While children in at-risk groups could always avail of the flu vaccine free of charge, this is the first time it has been available for free to all children in this age group.
The decision to provide it to all children was made earlier this year, as it was feared that a resurgence of flu in the winter could put even more pressure on a health system already under huge pressure as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, uptake of the children's vaccine is reported to be relatively low. The IPU says it understands that 450,000 doses of the vaccine have been distributed, but so far, only one-quarter have been administered.
It said that it also understands that the vaccines will begin to expire in January if left unused.
"Flu is a very serious and contagious respiratory illness. While it disproportionately affects older people, it is deeply unpleasant at all ages and can have serious long-term impacts.
"It is very concerning that there has been such a low uptake in parents getting their children vaccinated, despite a very high-profile campaign by the HSE advertising that the vaccine is available for free to children," commented IPU committee member and community pharmacist, Jonathon Morrissey.
The IPU insisted that if there is a possibility that doses of the nasal flu vaccine could expire unused, "then the criteria to qualify for the free vaccine should be expanded to include all those over two and up to the age of 18".
"We currently can't stop COVID-19, but we can stop flu. We should all do what we can to protect our health service and vulnerable members of our community. Reducing the risk of children and teenagers spreading flu is one important step," Mr Morrissey said.
Discussions on this topic are now closed.