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Published: 24 November 2023

Experts discuss the importance of vaccination

This week’s HSE Talking Health and Wellbeing podcast featured a discussion about the COVID-19 and flu vaccines with Dr Sarah Geoghegan, Clinical Lead of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) and Gillian Buggy, Regional Flu Lead for Southeast Community Health Care.

Listen to this episode of the HSE Talking Health and Wellbeing podcast

Dr Geoghegan emphasised the importance of healthcare workers getting both vaccines to protect themselves and the vulnerable people they care for. She noted that the vaccines may not be as effective in certain high-risk groups, so it is crucial for the people looking after them to be vaccinated:

“One thing that is really important to understand about both the flu and the COVID vaccine is that unfortunately it doesn't work as effectively in some of the highest risk groups, such as immunocompromised patients, patients receiving chemotherapy and adults over 80. So even if these groups are vaccinated and in hospital, they may still get COVID or flu. So it's really important that the people looking after them are vaccinated as well.”

Dr Sarah Geoghegan, NIAC Clinical Lead

They both acknowledged that the uptake of COVID-19 and flu vaccines among healthcare workers is not as high as desired. The goal is to have 75% of healthcare workers in residential facilities vaccinated against the flu and at least 50% vaccinated against COVID-19. They stressed the importance of providing vaccine information to healthcare workers and encouraging them to make informed decisions about vaccination.

They discussed hybrid immunity, which means having had both a previous infection and vaccination for COVID-19. Studies have shown that hybrid immunity provides the best form of protection against COVID-19. People who have had both the infection and the vaccine have better immunity compared to those who have only been vaccinated or only had the infection.

They also addressed questions about the different versions of the Pfizer vaccine, and Dr Geoghegan talked about the continuous review of evidence to ensure up-to-date recommendations:

“We review all of the evidence, and then as an independent committee we decide on the recommendations, but it doesn’t stop there. There’s then continuous review to make sure that those recommendations are up-to-date and current, and that's incredibly important with COVID because things change continuously.”

Dr Sarah Geoghegan, NIAC Clinical Lead

They discussed the importance of flu vaccination, noting that a significant number of people die from the flu every year. Healthcare workers can often have the flu without realising it during flu season. Vaccination is crucial to prevent the flu being carried and spread by healthcare workers.

The speakers also discussed the importance of increasing the uptake of the children's flu vaccine to reduce the burden of flu in the community. The nasal flu vaccine is recommended for children aged 2 to 12 and is widely available. There is also a program in schools to administer the nasal vaccine to certain age groups.

Protection from previous vaccines or from a previous infection weakens over time, and the COVID-19 and flu viruses can change. As a healthcare worker, it's important to top up your protection for the months ahead, to protect yourself and the people you care for.

Learn more about healthcare worker vaccines