The HSE and Department of Health have announced details of the Swine Flu Vaccination Programme, which will commence on 2nd November. 

As very few people in Ireland have any immunity to Swine Flu, over the coming months, the HSE will offer a Swine Flu vaccine to the entire population. However, as the vaccine is being delivered in phases, we will start with the people who are most at risk from Swine Flu. The people most at risk, and being vaccinated first are:

Pregnant women (from 14 weeks pregnant to 6 weeks after giving birth) and anyone aged over 6 months and under 65 years who has:

  • Long-term Lung Disease (Alpha-1, COPD)
  • Long-term Heart Disease
  • Long-term Kidney Disease
  • Long-term Liver Disease
  • Long-term Neurological Disease (like MS, Cerebral Palsy)
  • Immunosuppression e.g. cancer treatment (and their household contacts)
  • Haemoglobinopathies
  • Diabetes
  • Morbid Obesity (check with your GP)

People aged 65 and over seem to have some immunity to Swine Flu so they are not in the most at-risk group and will be vaccinated at a later stage.

From Monday October 19th we will start delivering vaccine and supporting supplies to those GPs who have indicated their participation in the programme, and those supplies will build up to the required capacity over the following ten days. Over that period, some GPs will have limited supplies, so people in at-risk groups may wish to call their GP and enquire about availability. From the 30th October all GPs who are participating should have enough vaccine to begin vaccinating all their at-risk patients.

Then, on November 2nd, a national information campaign will commence, inviting those in the at-risk groups to make contact with their GP and make an appointment to receive their vaccine at specific clinics. If a patient's GP is not participating, alternative arrangements will be put in place.

Once this group has been completed, over the coming weeks and months we will move to the other groups, including healthcare workers (to provide protection to their vulnerable patients), children and older people, before offering vaccines to the wider population.  More detail on the timing of vaccination for these others groups will be announced at a later date and through the HSE’s information campaign.

Information for People with Chronic Illness

Getting the Swine Flu vaccine will protect you from Swine Flu and will also stop it spreading to people around you.

Swine Flu is a new flu virus that, for most people, has caused mild to moderate illness. However, some children, pregnant women and people with long-term illnesses have been hit harder by this flu, and some have died. Most people have no immunity to Swine Flu so, over the coming months, the HSE intends to offer a Swine Flu vaccine to everyone living in Ireland.

Who will get the vaccine first?

Everyone will be offered the Swine Flu vaccine, but we are giving the first supplies to those who are more at risk from Swine Flu.  Healthcare workers will also be vaccinated to protect themselves and their patients.

When get I get the vaccine? 

We will start distributing the vaccine over the next 2 weeks, and GPs will have enough supplies for everyone from November 1st 2009.

How does the Swine Flu vaccine work?

The vaccine helps your immune system to produce antibodies to the Swine Flu virus. When a person who has been vaccinated comes into contact with Swine Flu these antibodies attack the virus and prevent you getting the flu.

How safe is the Swine Flu vaccine?

We expect the Swine Flu vaccine to be as safe as the usual seasonal flu vaccine, which has been used for more than 60 years. Serious side effects are expected to be very rare and the Swine Flu vaccine cannot give you Swine Flu.  The vaccines are fully licensed and clinically tested.

Is it safe for pregnant women to be vaccinated?

Yes. The vaccine is safe to use in pregnancy and is recommended for all women from 14 weeks pregnant to 6 weeks after giving birth. Pregnant women under fourteen weeks pregnant who have an existing at-risk medical condition are also advised to get the vaccine.

Is there anyone who cannot get Swine Flu vaccine?

The vaccine should not be given to children under 6 months of age, and should be postponed if you have a temperature over 38ºC. Everyone in the at-risk groups aged over 6 months and under 65 years should get the vaccine – unless they have a severe allergy to eggs or other substances in the vaccine or have previously had Guillain Barré Syndrome. If you have any of these allergies or conditions you can discuss them and vaccination with your GP.

How long does it take the vaccine to work?

The vaccine starts to work within two weeks - our current advice is that to be fully protected from Swine Flu, people need a second dose of vaccine at least three weeks after the first dose.  However, it is hoped that more clinical information will emerge over the coming weeks confirming that one dose of vaccine will be enough to protect those aged 13 years and over.

What can I expect after vaccination?

The most common side effects will be mild and may include soreness, redness or swelling where the injection was given. Headache, fever, aches and tiredness may occur. Some people may have mild sweating and shivering as their immune system responds to the vaccine, but this is not Swine Flu and will pass after a day or so.

What if I don’t feel well after vaccination?

Take paracetamol or ibuprofen if you have a fever or any pain where the injection was given. If you are pregnant, take paracetamol for fever, not ibuprofen or aspirin. Avoid clothes rubbing against the injection area and drink plenty of fluids. Remember if you or a child is unwell after getting a vaccine, they could be sick for some other reason – don’t assume it’s the flu vaccine and take medical advice if needed.

Do I have to pay for the vaccine?

The vaccine and its administration are free of charge for everyone. You may be asked for your PPSN (Personal Public Service Number) when you go to have your vaccine.

We would urge all our Alpha-1 patients to talk to your GP and make an appointment for a Swine Flu Vaccine over the coming weeks.


The Alpha One Foundation would like to cordially invite you and your friends to our 2nd Annual Chopin Recital in The Mansion House on October 8th at 7pm. 

We offer you an evening of classical music away from the doom and gloom that has been dominating the headlines recently. Think of an evening spent in the elegant rooms of the Mansion House with a wine reception followed by an hour of enchanting music.

As you may be aware Frédéric Chopin suffered from chronic respiratory disease, probably Alpha-1, during his short but very productive life. The Alpha One Foundation wishes to celebrate his life and draw attention to research into respiratory disease, particularly alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (also known as hereditary emphysema).  As his condition greatly influenced his music we thought it appropriate to celebrate Chopin’s life and music annually around the anniversary of his death.  We hope to have representatives from the Polish and French embassies to commemorate his close ties with both countries.

The Lord Mayor of Dublin Councillor Emer Costello has kindly invited us to use her residence in the Mansion House for the occasion. We gratefully acknowledge her generosity. The evening will commence at 7.00 pm with a wine reception and conclude at 8.30 pm. The programme will is mostly Chopin but will include works from other selected composers. The pianist for the night is the internationally renowned pianist Mr. Lance Coburn. Beginning his studies in his homeland of New Zealand, Lance furthered his musical education in Australia, the Tchaikovsky Conservatoire in Moscow and finally with John O’Conor at the Royal Irish Academy of Music. He has performed and toured with the Central Florida, Israel and Sydney Symphony Orchestras, the Hibernian Orchestra (Dublin), WDR – Cologne Orchestra and several major Australian Symphony Orchestras. Donations on the night are discretionary but would be gratefully accepted.

Yours sincerely,
Professor Gerry McElvaney,
Alpha One Foundation
To secure your invitations please contact Kitty O'Connor at 01-8093871 or by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Madam, – The Irish Heart and Lung Transplant Association, The Irish Lung Fibrosis Association and the Alpha One Foundation wish to respond to Orla Tinsley’s article (Opinion, April 24th). 

Our group has admired her informed and tenacious advocacy on behalf on the Cystic Fibrosis Association in relation to the care and conditions for CF patients in Ireland; however we would like to draw your attention to the work and advocacy of other groups concerned with cardiothoracic transplant issues which have been ongoing for a number of years.

Our group met Minister for Health Mary Harney, her officials and a representative of the HSE on April 21st to discuss and express our grave concern at the current low levels of heart and lung transplant activity in the Mater Hospital. We had a very satisfactory meeting and were encouraged by the Minister’s personal commitment and desire to improve the situation.

In 2001 the Irish Heart and Lung Association wrote to the then Minister for Health, urging the establishment of a formal transplant authority which would be responsible for all aspects of organ donation, procurement and transplant, donor awareness, education, training, registries and allocations. We are now encouraged by Ms Harney’s assurance that such a body is being established in the form of an oversight and regulatory office.

Our group obviously wish to see more transplant activity in the Mater Hospital but we are aware that cardiothoracic organs are not as robust as other organs, resulting in retrieved organs not always been suitable for transplantation. That is a situation common to all transplant programmes world wide. As far as prioritising patients on waiting lists, it is our understanding that this is a clinical decision based on a number of variables such as blood and size matching and of course which patient is most in need.

The Cystic Fibrosis Association is aware that there are other pulmonary patient groups whose members desperately need lung transplantation. Patients who suffer from lung fibrosis, Alpha 1 anti-trypsin deficiency, emphysema or other serious lung disorders all wait for that very special and scarce donation that will release many from the imprisonment of 24-hour oxygen dependency.

We particularly asked the Minister and the HSE at our meeting to examine donor management systems to ensure that they are friendly to the needs of cardiothoracic organ retrieval, and to examine the notification, retrieval and subsequent usage results. We understand that an external review of these and other issues will be undertaken.

As Mater Hospital transplant recipients we are naturally supportive of the National Heart and Lung Transplant Programme in that hospital, however ours is not a blind loyalty and if there are blockages in the retrieval/ notification chain then these must be addressed by both the Mater Hospital and the National Organ Procurement Service in Beaumont Hospital as a matter of urgency.

All of us within the transplant community in Ireland, both individually and through the Irish Donor Network, have worked hard over the years to convince the Government that our country has been left far behind by most of our European neighbours who many years ago implemented procedures, systems, organisational structures and resources (both human and financial) to ensure organ transplantation became a national priority and that donor and transplantation figures were maximised.

Our group will continue its work and will continue to liaise with our colleagues in the Irish Donor Network, the Department of Health and Children and the HSE to advance the interest of all patients on all transplant waiting lists. We believe this to be the best way to achieve our aims. – Yours, etc,

TERRY MANGAN, (Heart transplant recipient) 

European Heart and Lung Transplant Federation, 

Lansdowne Park, 


Dublin 16. 

BRENDAN GILLIGAN (Heart transplant recipient) 

Irish Heart and Lung Transplant Association. 

MARY O’CONNOR-BIRD (Lung transplant recipient) 

Irish Lung Fibrosis Association 


CEO, Alpha One Foundation. 

This article appeared in the print edition of the Irish Times, Friday, May 1, 2009.

Josephine McGuirk suffers from Alpha-1, a genetic condition which most GPs have not heard of. This is her story as told to FIONA TYRELL of the Irish Times.












NOT MANY people have heard of alpha-1 and it was new to me until about nine years ago when my brother died. Alpha-1 antitrypsin is an important protein produced by the liver that acts as a protection for the lungs from the destructive actions of lung illnesses and exposures to environmental factors such as tobacco smoke. People with alpha-1 are lacking in this protein.

It is a genetic condition. The doctors reckon that if both parents are carriers of the condition, one in four of their offspring will have alpha-1. Three out of my 10 brothers and sisters have it.

Three of us also have haemochromatosis, which is also an inherited disease. This can also affect the liver. Everyone else gets a few bob from their parents, but we got two diseases. All four of my children are carriers of the disease, but none of their partners are. So they are in the clear.

I have to admit that I used to be a very heavy smoker and five years after I was diagnosed with alpha-1, I was diagnosed with emphysema. I suppose at 62 I can’t really run down the road anyway, but I find that I can’t really exert myself without getting short of breath.

Just over four years ago my husband John and I decided to leave our two-storey home in Artane that we had lived in for 32 years and move out to a house in Bettystown, which had no stairs and is a 15-minute walk from the beach.

Before the move I was finding going up and down the stairs difficult. Someone mentioned a stair lift and, if I could, I would have run a mile. I decided to move, instead of getting a stair lift. Now out in Bettystown I go for a walk on the beach as often as I can, but I have to stay in from the breeze. I have noticed a big difference in my health since we moved. Sometimes I forget that I have anything wrong with me at all.

Three years ago I was asked to go on a trial for a new drug for people with alpha-1 called zemaira, which is supposed to replace the missing protein. For the first two years I didn’t know if I was on a placebo or the drug itself. Now the trial has been extended and this time I know that I am on zemaira. I have improved a bit. A nurse travels out to give me the drug by infusion every week.

I had no hesitation going on a drug trial. Maybe it is because I am older and I feel that if I can help anyone else it will be worth it. Mostly I want to raise awareness about the condition. There is so little knowledge about the condition that a lot of people are being treated for asthma when really they have alpha-1. Most GPs have not heard of it. Testing for alpha-1 is simple – it is just a finger prick test.

People say that I have a great outlook on life. I just take on board what life gives me. What else can you do?

When I was initially diagnosed I was a bit frightened because my brother had died. But he had other complications and didn’t have the same access to services as I have. My other brother with alpha-1 is 53. He has no sign of disease in his lungs. He never smoked and is very active. The doctors keep an eye on him.

I am doing well. I am on inhalers to open the airways in my lungs. I get the ’flu and pneumonia jab and try to stay away from people who are coughing and spluttering. The more chest infections you get, the more your lungs are damaged. I am involved in raising money for the Alpha-1 Foundation charity. I walked the ladies mini-marathon last year and hope to do it again this year.

I am not one of those strong anti-smoking people. I feel sorry for people trying to give up. I know how hard it is, but it is worth it in the long run. I had tried to give up smoking for years, but when I was diagnosed with emphysema I went for hypnotherapy. My last cigarette was the cigarette I had just before I went into the hypnotherapist.

A severe genetic disease which affects the lungs and the liver 

Alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency is a genetic disease that primarily affects the lungs and liver, which can cause life-threatening conditions.

The first formal report of the disease occurred just over 40 years ago, when it was noticed that some patients presenting with emphysema had a deficiency in the protein alpha-1.

Alpha-1 antitrypsin is a protein produced by the liver. It protects the lungs from the destructive actions of common illnesses and exposures, particularly tobacco smoke.

Research by the Alpha One Foundation has demonstrated higher incidence of alpha-1 on the island of Ireland than previously thought, with an estimated 3,000 individuals at risk of developing this severe disease, compared with 1,600 individuals.

To date, only 120 individuals with AAT deficiency have been identified in Ireland. This means that more than 95 per cent of those with the condition are either undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other conditions – such as COPD or asthma.

A further 700,000 Irish people are estimated to be carriers of the disease, says the foundation.

In May 2004 a national targeted detection programme for AAT was launched in Beaumont Hospital, Dublin. The programme employs a full-time clinical research nurse who attends respiratory outpatient clinics where patients are targeted for screening.

For further information on alpha-1 see, or telephone 01-8093871.

This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times, Tuesday, April 21, 2009.