Walk-in flu vaccination clinics for children are opening across the country as the number of cases in the population continues to rise.
Children aged between two and 17 can avail of a free nasal vaccine in 38 clinics.
No appointment is required but a form of identification is needed.
The Health Service Executive is is encouraging parents and carers to avail of the walk-in clinics, saying “children are more likely to contract and pass on flu and can become seriously ill as a result.”
Consultant in Public Health Medicine with the HSE’s National Immunisation Office, Dr Aparna Keegan, said: “Vaccinating children protects them – and their siblings, parents, grandparents and those who are vulnerable.”
“With increased socialisation at this time of year the risk of contracting flu becomes greater.”
The walk-in clinics will be open until Friday.
When attending bring a form of identification, passport, birth certificate, Public Services Card or school ID
Symptoms include high temperature, muscle pains, headache and extreme tiredness.
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Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, Dr Keegan said there was a sharp increase in the number of flu cases reported, and vaccine uptake in children had been “disappointing”.
“In week 50 alone, we saw 631 cases of flu reported to us, that is a significant increase from the previous week where there were 283 cases,” she said.
“So, we know flu is circulating, flu is on the rise, and in particular children are being impacted.”
She added: “it is disappointing in terms of the uptake, only 15.4% of children last year took up the flu vaccine, and this year, it is slightly better in children aged two to 12 years old, the uptake is around 18%.
“[It’s] quite a low uptake that we are talking about.”
She added that this year, the nasal flu vaccine was offered in primary aged special schools and to Senior Infants in mainstream schools.
“When we are offering in school, it is much more convenient, and we see the uptake to be much higher.
“Our plan really is over the future years to roll it out through the schools-based program to increase uptake and to make it as convenient as possible for parents to get the flu vaccine.”
Dr Keegan said there had been 454 hospitalisations for flu, with children under the age of 15 making up about 169 of them.
“We want to make sure children have the best protection against flu, so we are making sure they have every opportunity to get their flu vaccine.
“In children, not only is flu a serious illness for themselves, but they also can transmit to other people, for example, their grandparents who may be at high-risk of flu as well.”
She advised people with flu symptoms, such as a cough or runny nose, to follow “respiratory etiquette”, making sure that you are catching any coughs or sneezes particularly in the crook of their arm or using a tissue and binning that and washing hands regularly.
She added that people should stay away from créches or workplaces if they have symptoms.