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The Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) has welcomed the decision by Government to expand eligibility for the free nasal flu vaccine for children to include teenagers up the age of 17, a policy change the IPU previously called for in November.

Speaking following the announcement, community pharmacist and IPU Treasurer Ms Ann Marie Horan said: “The decision to extend the eligibility of the free flu vaccine to teenaged children is extremely positive. Teenagers tend to have a wide range of close contacts, especially in school, and therefore vaccinating them should help maintain the low rates of flu transmission seen so far this season.”

Ms Horan also urged parents to avail of this vaccine. “Flu is a very serious and contagious respiratory illness. While it disproportionately affects older people, it is deeply unpleasant at all ages and can have serious long-term impacts. This is a nasal spray vaccine that is quick and painless to administer, so parents should have no apprehension about availing of it.”

She concluded by stating: “While we wait with optimism about the roll-out of a Covid-19 vaccine, there is a vaccine here now to stop flu. We must all do that we can to protect vulnerable members of our community and the health service. Reducing the risk of children and teenagers spreading flu is one important step.”

Meanwhile, the Union has called on the Government to implement commitments made in the Programme for Government and modernise the health service by providing for comprehensive pharmacy services. In a recent Behaviours & Attitudes (B&A) survey, 30 per cent of people stated that their pharmacist has become more important to them since the Covid-19 outbreak began, especially now that face-to-face access to GPs is more difficult. In June, the IPSOS veracity index showed 96 per cent public trust in pharmacists, second only to nurses and ahead of all other professions.

This was further reinforced by the recent Customer Experience Ireland 2020 Report, which highlighted that pharmacies are among those sectors that provide the highest level of customer service and experience.

IPU Secretary General Mr Darragh O’Loughlin said: “The last nine months have demonstrated the pivotal role that community pharmacies play, often plugging the gaps in healthcare services in local communities. Community pharmacists are now urging Government to deliver on their promise and not to miss the opportunity that now exists to provide comprehensive pharmacy services as part of reforming and modernising healthcare in Ireland.”  

  He continued: “The pandemic pushed forward reforms that we have long been calling for and they have worked really well, as evidenced in recent surveys. For example, the B&A survey results show that among the top things people consulted their pharmacist on during the pandemic were repeat prescriptions.

Earlier this year, a new measure was introduced whereby pharmacists can now repeat existing prescriptions where appropriate for individual patients and extend the validity from six months to nine months. Pharmacists have been calling for years for measures like this to be introduced, and the public have responded wholeheartedly when they are.  

“Similarly, the B&A survey showed that 10 per cent of those who consulted with their pharmacist during the pandemic did so about minor ailments, for example eye infections or first aid. This shows the need for a Minor Ailment Scheme, as is already available in neighbouring jurisdictions, which again pharmacists have been seeking for many years, as it is in the public good.”

Mr O’Loughlin concluded: “Pharmacists are calling on the Government to urgently act on the commitments in the Programme for Government to enhance the role of pharmacists in the delivery of healthcare in the community. Now more than ever before, we need to look at ways of reforming and modernising healthcare.”