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‘With my husband’s illness, it felt more important this year that the entire family got the flu vaccine’


by Amanda Cassidy
14th Nov 2020
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This is the first year Irish children have been offered the flu vaccine free of charge. And the uptake is encouraging with 8 out of 10 parents reporting that they’d already vaccinated their children or had plans to do so within two weeks. Amanda Cassidy spoke to one family about why they welcomed the health iniatitive.


For the Toomey family, the flu vaccine has been an annual occurrence for dad John over the last 20 years. “John, my husband, has been getting the flu jab for as long as it’s been available,” Marie explains.

“He has a complicated medical history. He’s had multiple aortic valve replacements in his heart and now has heart failure. So, it is really important that John avoids viruses like the flu and other infections, if at all possible. In fact, any sort of infection could pose a significant risk to John, so you can imagine how careful we have been as a family since the coronavirus arrived in Ireland.”

Máire and John have three children, Oscar age 12, Ruby is 10 years old and Luca is five. “When we heard the government would be introducing the nasal spray version of the flu vaccine for children we were first in the queue.”

The nasal flu vaccine is not a new vaccine. In fact, it has been offered to children in the UK since 2013. The children’s nasal flu vaccine is free for all children aged between 2-12 years and is available from GPs and pharmacies nationwide.

Protection

Professor in Immunology at Trinity College Dublin Dr. Rachel McLoughlin is a mum of three herself. She says that during these uncertain times, it makes sense to protect your children against the diseases that we do have vaccines for.

We have a safe and easy-to-administer vaccine for children with no needles required, that will protect them from the virus that causes flu. A simple squirt up the nose and they are fully protected. The last thing any parent wants right now is to have a sick child that requires a trip to the hospital in the midst of this pandemic.”

In fact, children are more likely than adults to get severe complications of flu, including pneumonia, bronchitis, and painful ear infections.

“We didn’t want to leave anything to chance”

“This is why it is so important for them to get the flu vaccine this year when our hospitals are already under immense pressure,” points out Dr. McLoughlin. 

But it isn’t just important to prevent school sick days that made Márie Twoomy bring her children to the GP.

Risk

“My mum had also been ill over the last 12- months and so she wanted to be sure that everyone in the house was protected.  We are living with my mum at the moment, as it is easier to care for her this way since Covid. My mum is 76 years old and has just come through a year of treatment for cancer, with one more operation ahead of us.

That, coupled with John’s health and the times that we’re living in, meant that we didn’t want to leave anything to chance. We didn’t want to risk any of us bringing anything into the house.”

Now research carried out by BabyDoc Club found that 94% of parents surveyed were aware of the introduction of the nasal flu vaccine to this year’s winter flu protection programme, with GPs and pharmacies reporting increased interest from parents in recent weeks to get their children vaccinated before the cold winter weather creeps in. 

Laura Erskine from BabyDoc Club said the main reason was that coronavirus and flu viruses are both respiratory viruses and some of the symptoms can be remarkably similar.

This will make it hard for parents and health professionals to make a call as to whether a child is suffering from flu or has contracted coronavirus, without a test. As both infections are easily spread through coughing and sneezing and children back in school, it makes sense for those aged 2-12 years to get vaccinated against flu. This age group of children are also not obliged to wear face coverings so will be more likely to transmit and be vulnerable to infection.” 

But what about the fears some parents have about side-effects?

The HSE and medical experts are keen to point out to parents that you can’t get the flu from the flu vaccine. A small number of people might experience some mild side effects, including a runny nose, headache or temperature which can be treated with over the counter paracetamol medicine. Family GP, Dr Eleanor Gavin also points out that “children are twice as likely to get the flu than adults.”

Márie says that thankfully her family didn’t experience any of that. “Not even a runny nose! Honestly, I have such great peace of mind now that we have all done what we can to protect mum and John. Not to mention the fact that we can certainly rule out flu if we were to experience Covid.”

Image via Twoomey family

Read more: How to reduce Coronavirus anxiety

Read more: Face-masks for kids: 4 Irish-run operations

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