Health Minister Robin Swann has welcomed the roll out of the winter vaccination programme during a visit to Lisadian Private Nursing Home in Hillsborough.

Residents and staff at the home are amongst the first recipients of the winter vaccination that includes the COVID-19 booster and flu vaccine programme.

Over the coming weeks community pharmacies will visit over 450 care homes across Northern Ireland, vaccinating some of our most vulnerable patients who simply couldn’t access a healthcare setting.

The vaccines help to prolong protection already received from initial COVID-19 vaccinations, while the flu vaccine is needed every year as the antibodies that protect you from flu decline over time, and flu strains change from year to year.

Minister Swann said “I am delighted to see this year’s winter vaccination programme get underway, with some of our most vulnerable members of the community getting the opportunity to get vaccinated early in the season.

“COVID-19 and flu are a key factor in causing winter pressures on the health service.  It impacts on those who fall ill, the health services that provide direct care, and on the wider health and social care system.  I would encourage everyone who is eligible, including care home residents and staff, to get vaccinated.”

Flu activity levels have been extremely low globally the last two winters, mainly due to COVID-19 prevention measures. As a result, a lower level of population immunity against flu is expected this year. This coupled with COVID-19, which hasn’t gone away, could potentially result in a real health threat particularly for vulnerable members of our community.

The Minister was accompanied on his visit by the Department’s Chief Pharmaceutical Officer Cathy Harrison who said: “Vaccines are the most effective way to prevent infectious diseases as they teach our immune system how to recognise and fight viruses. Being vaccinated against both viruses will not only help to protect you and those around you from flu and COVID-19, but will help protect everyone from a potentially devastating double threat this winter.”

Dr Joanne McClean, Director of Public Health at the PHA, said: “As well as care home residents being offered the vaccine this is an invaluable opportunity for care home staff to receive their vaccines too. As frontline health and social care workers they are eligible to get the free COVID-19 and flu vaccine.

“The vaccines offered have been proven to be safe and effective, if staff have questions as well as speaking to the community pharmacist on the day of vaccination we are encouraging care home managers to use the resources available on the PHA vaccine toolkit  to address any questions and promote the vaccine within their homes.”

The PHA and the Department of Health will work with RQIA and community pharmacies to build on the successful relationships forged during the delivery of the spring COVID-19 booster programme in care homes to ensure good uptake of the winter vaccinations this time round.

Michael Cooper, Community Pharmacist “The accessibility and adaptability of the community pharmacy network has really been highlighted throughout the vaccine programme. As a network we are delighted to be able to help bring these vaccinations to some of the most vulnerable people in our communities within their own surroundings and to our colleagues in health and social care. We would encourage everyone to take up the opportunity to get vaccinated when we visit a care home, and should they have any questions we can discuss them through on the day.”

Getting vaccinated is free, quick, and it could make a big difference to your health and the health of those close to you.

The message is clear – if you’re eligible for either the flu vaccine, COVID-19 vaccine or both, take up the offer when invited.

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