October is the prime time for flu vaccination, and the US and Europe are preparing for high-demand experts’ expectations as countries seek to avoid a “twindemik” with COVID-19.
“There is a great deal of concern as we enter the autumn and winter months and during the flu season we will have a dreaded overlap” of the flu and coronavirus, Drs. Anthony Fauci of the US National Institutes of Health on Thursday. He got himself shot the flu earlier this week.
A record number of flu vaccine doses are coming up, between 194 million and 198 million for the US alone ̵1; many seem to be considered last year under just half of adults vaccinated and usually there are leftovers.
However, there is no way to know how many look for shots this year and some people occasionally find pharmacies or clinics that are temporarily out of stock.
Be patient: Gradually send flu vaccines. Less than half have been distributed so far, and the CDC and manufacturers say more than travel.
“This year I think everyone wants to get their vaccine and probably want it sooner than ever,” said Drs. Daniel Jernigan of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in The Associated Press. “If you do not get your vaccination now, do not fail” but keep trying.
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Pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur, which delivers nearly 250 million doses worldwide including 80 million for the US, said shipments were staggered until November.
The vaccine maker Seqirus is investigating whether it can release “a limited number of additional doses” to meet the high demand, spokeswoman Polina Miklush said.
The Brewing flu vaccine is time consuming. Once production is over for a year, countries cannot order more – making for a stressful balancing act as they predict how many people will release their sleeves.
Germany typically buys 18 million to 19 million doses, and this year ordered more. As German Health Minister Jens Spahn put it: “If we manage, together, to get the flu vaccination rate so high that all 26 million doses are actually used, then I would be a very happy health minister.”
Spain bought an overdose in hopes of vaccinating older adults and pregnant women than usual, along with key workers in health facilities and nursing homes.
In contrast, Poland, which last year had 100,000 unused doses, did not expect high demand this fall and is still looking.
The good news: The same precautions that can help stop the spread of coronavirus – wearing masks, avoiding crowds, washing hands and keeping distance – will also help prevent the flu.
Winter is just over in the Southern Hemisphere and countries like South Africa, Australia, Argentina and Chile have not been tested for any flu thanks to COVID-19 restrictions accompanied by a major push for flu vaccination
With the coronavirus still in its infancy and the coming cold season like the opening of many schools and businesses, there is no guarantee that countries in the Northern Hemisphere will be lucky with the flu.
“How many flu we have, we do not know – but there will be the flu,” Drs. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
Only a flu vaccine protects against the flu, not the coronavirus. And while its effectiveness varies from year to year, people vaccinated against the flu do not get sick, preventing pneumonia, hospitalization and death, Schaffner said.
The CDC estimates that last year 400,000 Americans were hospitalized for the flu and killed 22,000.
Adding the flu to the COVID-19 toll – which killed more than 1 million people worldwide including more than 206,000 Americans – will make hospitals even more difficult. Both the flu and coronavirus have similar symptoms and although they are mild, Schaffner warns of confusion as people seek testing to find out which disease they have and if anyone they have had to quarantine .
“Get the flu in the equation this fall,” Jernigan advised.
Who needs the flu vaccine?
The US recommends it for everyone starting at 6 months of age. But the flu is most dangerous for people over the age of 65, children, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions such as heart disease, asthma, even diabetes.
Most Americans with insurance can get it without co-pay, and there are different types to choose from: Regular shots, two types of shots that aim to give seniors a little extra protection, and a nasal spray.
The CDC does not recommend each other. If you do not find your preferred type, “we ask people not to shop and wait forever,” Jernigan said. “The best vaccine available is the vaccine you can use.”
The CDC this year wants states to increase flu vaccinations in Blacks and Hispanics, who are more likely to be vaccinated than whites and are also at greater risk from COVID-19. Some states also carry drive-thru flu vaccines and outpatient clinics to prevent most.
And at the same time they have been vaccinated against the flu, the elderly and people with chronic illness should also ask about getting vaccinated against a type of pneumonia that is a frequent complication, US officials urged.
In most of Europe, the high risk is noticeable. France has ordered 30% more flu vaccines than last year, with the first shots given at high risk as inocations begin later this month.
In Italy, doctors and pharmacists have expressed concern about supply, as the health ministry is negotiating with vaccine manufacturers to ensure that everyone wants to get the vaccine. Italy has also lowered the threshold – from the age of 65 to 60 – for receiving the flu vaccine free of charge.
Britain’s health department expects adequate doses for nearly half of the population but precautions that suffering delivery may mean some doctors and pharmacies will not receive shots until later in the fall. Britain typically offers free flu vaccines to the elderly, pregnant women and some other at-risk groups, and discusses whether others should be eligible for a free shot this year.
The World Health Organization said last week that some countries are fighting to make sure they have enough flu vaccine. The WHO has urged any countries concerned about a shortage to give priority to health workers and the elderly.