Health Minister Robin Swann has announced that everyone aged 50 and over will again be offered a flu vaccination as well as a COVID-19 booster this autumn.
This move is part of a plan to increase protection against respiratory viruses ahead of winter when there is likely to be a COVID surge.
The Minister said: “I am pleased that the latest advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) means alignment in terms of age for both COVID-19 and flu vaccination for 2022. With both vaccines being made available to everyone aged 50 and over, as well as those in a clinical risk group aged 49 years and under, all people in Northern Ireland at greatest risk from flu or COVID will be eligible for vaccines protecting them against both winter respiratory viruses.
“We must do all we can to reduce preventable death and serious illness caused by flu. Ensuring that as many eligible people as possible come forward and receive both their flu and COVID-19 vaccinations when invited to do so will be critical to protect individuals, communities and our health and social care services this winter.”
Secondary school pupils in years 8 to 12, who were included in the annual influenza programme for the first time last year, will also be offered the flu jab again this autumn, alongside pre-school and primary school children and a wide range of adults in vulnerable categories, as well as carers and frontline Health and Social Care workers.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Michael McBride said: “It’s clear there are a number of factors combining to make the 2022/23 winter season particularly challenging. There is likely to be a winter COVID-19 surge, although at this stage we do not yet know how severe that may be.
“Monitoring the data from Australia now, we expect that we could also see much higher flu activity and we will have both coronavirus and flu circulating at the same time during winter when they pose the greatest threat.
“With the ending of COVID restrictions and interactions returning to a more normal level the return of influenza and other respiratory viruses this winter is anticipated. Influenza vaccination is therefore an important priority this coming autumn to reduce the risk of serious illness and death associated with flu.
“Please keep following the important public health advice to reduce the transmission of flu and COVID, such as wearing face coverings in indoor crowded spaces.
“If you’re eligible, please get the vaccines when you’re offered as they provide the best available protection for yourself, your family and the health service.”
Further details of the flu vaccination programme will be released in due course, but where possible, it is hoped that the COVID-19 booster will be co-administered with the influenza vaccine.
The Minister concluded: “There will be a significant challenge involved in delivering the flu programme to tens of thousands of children and adults over a short period. But I know that our hardworking and dedicated teams in GP surgeries, community pharmacies, Health and Social Care Trusts, the Public Health Agency, Regional Pharmacy and Regional Supply will once again step up to ensure that as many people as possible receive the jab.
“Getting vaccinated when you are invited to do so is a decision we can all take to protect ourselves and our families and continue to keep each other safe.”