Before the year 2020 and the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, South Africa would record 47 000 cases of the Influenza (flu) virus. About half of those infections would result in hospitalisation. While nearly 12 thousand (11 800) South Africans would die every year from the virus. The global influenza annual death rate is 650 thousand out of 5 million cases. But non-pharmaceutical interventions such as the regular washing of hands, wearing of masks, social distancing, and travel restrictions due to COVID-19, are suspected to have had an impact on the reduced influenza infection rates.

According to the medical head at Sanofi Pasteur, Dr Thinus Marais, the easing of global travel restrictions may result in increased transmission of flu. Marais also said that high-risk populations needed to be vaccinated against the flu to prevent hospitalisations, which could further add to the burden on the health system as the country battles a third wave of Covid-19 infections.

Flu vaccine

“The influenza vaccine will result in fewer hospitalisations to allow capacity for COVID-19 patients. It [influenza vaccine] reduces the need for patient visits to facilities,” said Marais.

In the 2021 influenza guidelines, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) recommends that pregnant women, people aged 65 years and above, people who are above the age of 18 and are receiving chronic aspirin therapy, people living with HIV, people with tuberculosis, those who are morbidity obese, those who have chronic conditions and young children be prioritised for the flu vaccine.

The NICD has also recommended the use of inactivated flu vaccine formulation which amongst it [the formulation] is the quadrivalent IIV vaccine which was introduced in the country last year. This type of vaccine offers protection against the two A subtypes (H1N1 and H3N2) and two B lineages (Victoria lineage and Yamagata lineage) circulating in South Africa.

“What is great about the quadrivalent vaccine is that it takes away the guessing game. Influenza is unpredictable so it is important to have vaccines that offer broader protection,” he added.

The flu vaccine prevents 7.5 million cases and also prevents 3.7 million medical visits annually. With many South Africans getting vaccinated for COVID-19, Marais said that people who got vaccinated for either COVID-19 or flu should wait for a minimum of 14 days before they get the other vaccine, as recommended by the World Health Organisation’s. – Health-e News