Warning flu jab supply issues have placed NI on brink of epidemic
Just under a third of children aged two to four in Northern Ireland received flu jabs by the start of this month, it has emerged.
The SDLP warned that "we are on the brink of a flu epidemic" if supply problems are not addressed.
Statistics from the Public Health Agency (PHA) indicate that up to November 30, the number of people who received their vaccinations had gone up when compared to the same period last year.
The only drop in the figures saw just 29.9% of two to four year-olds getting their flu jabs in 2019, compared to 41.8% last year.
PHA figures indicate that the percentage of primary school children "offered and vaccinated" was 75.6% this year, an increase of 0.5%.
The primary school uptake was presented in this format due to delays last month to receiving the nasal spray used to protect children.
SDLP health spokesperson Mark H Durkan stated that children will have to wait until early next month before they receive the vaccination and expressed serious concern. The Foyle MLA said he wrote to the PHA following the postponement of primary school vaccinations throughout Northern Ireland.
"Alongside the elderly, children are among a demographic at greatest risk of flu complications," he said.
"It is therefore extremely concerning that vaccinations for this group has been postponed.
"Flu has circulated earlier than usual and I have been advised by health officials that it is likely to continue until the end of March 2020.
"We are currently bordering on the high risk bracket and I worry we are on the brink of a flu epidemic if supply issues are not resolved as soon as possible."
However, a spokesperson for the PHA explained that the primary school vaccine programme is operating as normal following the "temporary pause" across the UK.
Meanwhile, there was a slight increase in the number of pregnant women receiving the flu jab. In 2019, 43.8% received the vaccination compared to 43.5% 12 months ago.
In the 65 years and older category there was a 10.5% increase in pensioners getting their vaccine. In 2018, 52% of people 65 years and older received their jab and that rose to 62.5% this year.
Finally, 41.7% of individuals under 65 years with a chronic medical condition were given the flu jab last year and that increased slightly to 43.8% in 2019.
The PHA has urged those eligible for the free flu vaccine, who have not yet received it, to get the jab as soon as possible.
"Parents of pre-school children are urged to maximise protection for their children against flu, which can be a serious illness, by getting them the nasal spray vaccine," said a PHA spokesperson.
"Those aged 65 and over, under the age of 65 with underlying health conditions, and pregnant women are also more likely to develop serious complications from flu, so should get vaccinated too.
"People should make themselves aware of their GP surgery's flu vaccination arrangements and then visit their GP to get vaccinated."