By Dr Margaret O’Brien, Head of GP Services, Health and Social Care Board
Every year the HSC system encourages the public to avail of the flu jab and this year, more than most, I would urge everyone who can to get the vaccine.
The annual flu campaign helps to reduce the spread of flu and lowers flu-related hospital admissions which is very important right now with the health service already under strain as a result of COVID-19.
To be clear about this – by getting vaccinated you reduce the chances of contracting flu and coronavirus at the same time.
As part of the annual flu vaccination programme, GPs deliver almost 500,000 vaccinations each year to those aged over 65, pregnant women, carers at home and people under 65 with an underlying health condition.
This year, close contacts of those who were shielding during the pandemic can also get the vaccine at their GPs.
I’m particularly proud of the way GPs and their teams have stepped up to the plate this year to deliver this service under some very challenging conditions.
The emphasis, as always, has been on protecting patients and while many GP’s continue to offer this safely in their own practice, others have found some innovative ways to deliver their flu clinics from drive-throughs to church halls and huge indoor arenas.
GPs and their staff have worked hard to ensure patients receive great care while ensuring that they avoid spreading COVID-19 any further.
For example, Garden Street Surgery delivered its flu clinic at the Meadowbank Sports Arena this year, setting up 10 individual marquees for GPs, district nurses, pharmacists to vaccinate about 1000 patients in a day.
With support from the local Council the practice was able to ensure that patients could attend in smaller groups and have space to wait while observing social distance protocols and rest after getting their vaccinations.
The flu virus spreads through the air when people cough and sneeze without covering their nose and mouth. Each year the strains of flu in circulation change, so new vaccines are formulated to reflect this. That is why it is so important that everyone who falls into an eligible category gets the vaccine annually.
The flu vaccine does not give you the flu. It is offered as the best protection for ‘at risk’ groups because if they get flu, they are more likely to have severe illness and develop complications such as pneumonia, which can be life-threatening.
The message is clear – don’t take the risk; get the vaccine.