A MORE co-ordinated and information-led approach is needed to roll out the flu vaccination across Belfast.

That’s the view of Sinn Féin councillor Steven Corr who was speaking after it was announced that pre-school and primary school children will be offered the vaccination this autumn as well as First Years.

Children aged two to four are eligible to receive the free flu vaccine through their GP, while children in primaries one to seven will be offered the vaccine in school. While the flu vaccine won’t protect against the Coronavirus, being vaccinated against it will reduce the risk of the flu circulating alongside Covid-19, as well as a person contracting flu and Coronavirus at the same time.

Councillor Steven Corr said that he along with local residents’ associations and party members carried out two sample surveys in the Whiterock and Ballymurphy areas concerning the flu jab, with residents unclear as to how they will go about getting it due to Covid-19 restrictions.

“The flu season is now upon us,” he said. “The symptoms of Covid and flu are very similar at their early stages. GP services, at the minute, are not seeing patients as they did pre-Covid, but are offering a phone surgery and will see patients when considered necessary.

“Our main ask is, at this stage, are plans in place to roll out the vital flu jab? As far as we are aware the services are just being finalised and we would need this in place ASAP.

“In previous years, if people had the flu or cold they’d sometimes work through it, go into work, go about as much of their daily lives as possible. This year is a completely different ball game.”

He added: “We are hearing that some pharmacies will not be administering the vaccine as they don’t have the space. Most GPs have plans in place, but GPs are largely individual businesses and as such there is no uniform approach across the whole of West Belfast, for example. 

“It is my understanding that the East Belfast GP Federation are preparing a drive-through facility for the flu jab and this would be something we’d like to see in West Belfast, if it’s doable. It would mean family members could then take their elderly, infirm members to it. We need a clear, concise approach here now more than ever. 

“We also realise and accept that this situation is changing almost daily with Covid restrictions, so any programme needs to be flexible. 

“One of the main concerns raised on the doors, was that people who had the same GP found it impossible to get through on the phone to their GP.”

Grainne Bonnar, a Board member of the West Belfast GP Federation, said all 16 practices in West Belfast will be delivering the annual flu vaccination programme.

“Practices are finalising plans and will be touch with patients who are eligible for the vaccine in the coming weeks.”

A spokesperson for the Health and Social Care Board said: “Each year GP practices provide the flu vaccination to their registered patients, and that is the same this year.  This year GPs have considered the social distancing needed due to Covid-19.  This will be different depending on the size and location of the practice.  Some practices will provide the vaccinations in their normal practice site, others will be providing some of their vaccinations in local halls or as a drive through service.  Practices aim to provide most of their flu vaccination programme during October, November and December. Over the next few weeks practices will be letting patients eligible for flu vaccination know how to get their vaccination.”