Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann (Photo: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)

Amid mounting Covid-19 related workload on healthcare services, community pharmacies in Northern Ireland (NI) will administer flu vaccination to a wider cohort of patients after the country extended the programme to include individuals who will turn 50 by March 31, 2021.

“From Monday (January 11), people who are eligible, will be able to access the free seasonal flu vaccine at participating community pharmacies across Northern Ireland or at their GP practice,” the NI Department of Health said in an update on Tuesday (Jan 12).

NI health minister Robin Swann has welcomed the expanded vaccination role for community pharmacies and said: “Community pharmacies were included in the seasonal flu programme for the first time this year, successfully providing vaccines for over 15,000 health and social care workers.  I am very pleased to see the extension of this service announced yesterday which will enable many more people to gain protection from seasonal flu.

“I would encourage those people aged 50-64 years who have not yet received their flu vaccine to make sure they are vaccinated as soon as possible to protect themselves from the potentially serious consequences of concurrent infection with influenza virus and SARS-CoV-2 virus and avoid pressure on the HSCB (Health and Social Care Board).”

The minister further assured the community pharmacies that they will also be included in future plans for the Covid-19 vaccination programme, supporting the public health response to the pandemic.

Gerard Greene, chief executive of Community Pharmacy NI said: “It is vitally important that members of the public in the 50-64 age bracket come forward to their local participating pharmacy for the flu vaccine to reduce pressures on the health service over the coming weeks.

“The risk of colliding influenza and Covid infections must be avoided and I would encourage members of the public to protect themselves, those around them and the health service by getting the flu vaccine from their pharmacy at the earliest opportunity.”

Joe Brogan, head of pharmacy and medicines management in the HSCB said: “If you are over 50, this year more than ever, get the flu jab not the flu. I’m delighted that local community pharmacies across Northern Ireland can provide easy access to the public for flu vaccination and would encourage everyone to consider this.”

The rollout of the Covid vaccine has the potential to impact the capacity of GPs to administer the flu vaccine to this eligible cohort.

The HSCB and Public Health Agency are now working together to build upon the success of this year’s community pharmacy flu vaccination service and enable access to flu vaccination for the new cohort through participating community pharmacies, for those individuals who cannot get the vaccine through their GP or who prefer to access vaccination at their local pharmacy.

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