Those of you who regularly keep up to date with news and other outlets which we have at our fingertips may have noticed a change in pace in messaging around the importance of Flu vaccinations. Influenza is a common respiratory virus which causes headaches, fatigue and other symptoms including high temperature, but can be particularly dangerous to the elderly or those with pre-existing health conditions. In fact, just last year in the UK, 10,000 people died directly as a result of the flu – meaning hospital beds and complex care is needed which raises winter health pressures in hospitals and doctor surgeries. All of this, amidst the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, paints a dreary picture for what is to come in the UK. However, the government have been creating a campaign to incentivise those in particular groups to get their yearly flu jab to attempt to reduce the winter pressures amidst the current pandemic. So, what’s the thinking?
It is not known how the coronavirus and the flu interact, but there seem to be particularly severe manifestations in people with pre-existing conditions like diabetes, cancer or heart disease. First and foremost, an individual who contracts influenza and coronavirus at the same time would have a significant chance of mortality compared to one disease alone. Secondly, the physiological resiliency of an individual’s immune system after an infection is low, and thus an individual who contracts a further infection has a significantly increased risk of manifesting a more serious disease. And thirdly, by promoting influenza vaccination whilst we create vaccines for COVID-19, we can hope to reduce the ‘normal’ yearly flu pressure and prioritise care to those with complicated COVID-19. There are several strains of influenza which become the predominant strain around the world, and these are identified by virologists who share information and ensure the most virulent and common strain is included in the vaccine. This provides direct immunity to that strain, but also provides some basic immunity to all forms of influenza, at the very minimum preventing a severe infection with complications.
The complications that can arise from influenza in vulnerable people (those >50-65, pre-existing conditions, immune-impaired) include secondary bacterial infections, respiratory and cardiac distress, but mostly pneumonia, which often ‘tips’ the compromised individual into mortality. When immune systems are under direct threat from a virus, other areas are open to infection, and thus individuals often die of bacterial pneumonia which is hard to detect under the ‘cloud’ of physiological markers of influenza. Scientists from around the world have agreed that individuals with more severe health conditions or suffering from acute influenza-related distress would quickly succumb to mortality should they contract COVID-19, impressing the need for vaccine in these populations.
The government in the UK has updated its guidelines this year on who can now be eligible for influenza vaccination, including;
But this year, also;