Minister for Health Simon Harris is seeking an extension of the seasonal influenza vaccination programme in order to minimise the risks associated with a possible resurgence of Covid-19 during the annual influenza season next winter.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that having to deal with both viruses at the same time would be an absolute disaster.

The Department of Health is currently engaging with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to ensure that an extra €50m can be set aside to expand the free flu vaccination programme this year.

Almost 11,000 cases of influenza were notified to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre during the flu season just ending, with 4,323 people needing hospitalisation, while 152 of them were admitted to intensive care.

Overall, 103 people died of influenza, bringing the total number of flu-associated deaths since the winter of 2017 to 461 people.

All of which places a huge burden on our healthcare system. But with resources now stretched because of  Covid-19 and the potential for a second wave of the coronavirus later in the year, Mr Harris is moving to maximise protection for the population and the health system.

He is seeking a funding commitment from the Minister for Finance to extend flu vaccination without charge to all children from ages two to 17 years inclusive.

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In addition, free flu vaccination without payment of any administration fees would also be extended to everybody in the at-risk categories from ages six months to 69 years for whom vaccination is currently recommended.

Less than half of healthcare staff currently get the flu vaccine.

The Taoiseach said last Friday night that the Government will have to be more ambitious about its flu vaccine programme starting this year.