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Swine flu vaccination programme gets under way

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Protect yourself, protect those at risk and get the vaccine.

That was the key message from Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey at the launch of the swine flu vaccination programme. From today and in line with advice from the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), Trusts are starting to vaccinate frontline Health and Social Care (HSC) workers, pregnant women and patients in at risk groups in hospitals where appropriate.

Urgent arrangements are also being put in place to offer the swine flu vaccine to children with complex needs and severe learning disability. Starting tomorrow and Friday, the vaccine will be offered to around 2,500 pupils in over 20 special schools for severe learning disability across Northern Ireland. Many of these pupils are at most risk from complications of swine flu.

The Minister said: “We are continually learning from our experiences on the ground about swine flu and it is important that we respond quickly to protect the public. It has become clear that some groups are particularly at risk of complications, such as those who have an underlying health condition and pregnant women.

“The vaccination programme begins today and will target these vulnerable groups. Frontline health and social care staff will also be amongst the first to receive the vaccine. GPs will start vaccinating those in the at risk groups starting from 26 October. We are dependent on vaccine being delivered by the manufacturers and so must prioritise our supplies to ensure those most at risk are protected first.”

Over the last few weeks, the Minster said it had become clear that some groups are particularly at risk of complications, including pregnant women and those children and young people who have complex needs and severe learning disabilities. This includes children with conditions such as cerebral palsy and chronic lung conditions which make them particularly prone to frequent chest infections.

He continued: "After discussions with the Chief Medical Officer, I have decided that we must ensure children in special schools for severe learning disability are prioritised as a matter of urgency. Arrangements will be made to vaccinate these children starting tomorrow and Friday. Other children with special needs and underlying physical health conditions who are not in special schools for children with severe learning disability will quickly be identified and offered vaccine by their GPs.”

There are currently some 55,000 vaccines in Northern Ireland which are now being distributed across Health and Social Care Trusts and GP practices.

Mr McGimpsey continued: "An estimated 490,000 vaccines will be available for all the initial priority groups and it is expected that this process will be completed by December.

"We still do not know how this pandemic will evolve, we could see further waves over the next year and they could be more severe. The vaccine is the best way to protect the most vulnerable people in our society and I would encourage everyone to get it when it is offered. Protect yourself, protect those at risk and get the vaccine."

Notes to editors:

1. The clinical priority groups for the swine flu vaccination programme were identified by the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). They are prioritised as they are at greatest risk of complications if they become infected with swine flu, and hence the initial focus on protecting individuals in these groups.

The clinical risk groups, in order of priority are: Individuals aged six months and up to 65 years in the current seasonal flu vaccine clinical at risk groups; Pregnant women; Household contacts of immunocompromised individuals; People aged 65 and over in the current seasonal flu vaccine clinical at risk groups.

2. Further information on the clinical risk groups for the H1N1 swine flu vaccination programme is available to download:

3. The Northern Ireland swine flu helpline number 0800 0514 142 is a freephone helpline for those who want more information about swine flu. Textphone 18001 0800 0 514 142. The UK-wide flu information line on 0800 1 513 513 provides regularly updated advice on swine flu. This is also a freephone number.

4. Further information about swine flu can be found www.dhsspsni.gov.uk and www.nidirect.gov.uk .

5. Media enquiries to the DHSSPS Press Office on 028 9052 0575. Out of office hours contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 076 9971 5440 and your call will be returned.