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COVID-19 may not have a vaccine, but influenza does

08 April 2020 Craig Comrie, CEO of Profmed
Craig Comrie, CEO of Profmed

Craig Comrie, CEO of Profmed

The entire world is in a state of pandemic panic as COVID-19 continues to proliferate without an end in sight. South Africans are so busy worrying about the virus that they might forget that the flu season is upon us and we should all get vaccinated.

Justine Lacy, Clinical advisor of Profmed Medical Scheme, urges South Africans to get vaccinated sooner rather than later, and advises that this year’s vaccination may be the most important one you’ve ever received.

“The COVID-19 is a new and very serious threat, but we shouldn’t forget about existing threats like influenza, which has a death toll of six to ten thousand every year. Unlike COVID-19, we do have a vaccine for the flu, so we should all play our part in flattening that curve by getting vaccinated.”

In South Africa, flu circulation is highly seasonal and circulates during the winter. The average season starts the first week of June; however, it could start as early as April or as late as July. The season typically lasts about 12 weeks but can be as short as seven weeks or as long as 25 weeks. It is advisable to get vaccinated now, before the season begins. But there are a few myths to get out of the way.

Lacy confirms that the flu vaccine does not afford 100% immunity against influenza but protects only against the major strains circulating and there is a small chance one could still experience milder strains of the flu like the RSV virus. However, this is likely to be a much milder form and should be easily treatable and short lived. According to the Department of Health, the flu vaccine enables one’s body to respond quicker to the flu, making the disease shorter and milder in duration.

“The idea is that you are injecting tiny bits of the virus so your body can create antibodies. When the real virus comes along your body should be immune and can fight the virus,” says Lacy.

The vaccine are currently available and can be administered by your healthcare professional or at a pharmacy. Although, Lacy warns against unnecessary trips to the pharmacy. Rather phone your healthcare professional and see if you can come in, get the shot and get out.”

Much like the unanticipated panic buying witnessed in the shops over the last few weeks, Lacy predicts that there will be much scrambling for flu vaccinations, which adds to the importance of getting vaccinated early and avoiding the crowds.

“It is important to note that flu vaccines are highly recommended for people younger than 5 years, 65 years and older, adults with a chronic condition, especially respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses and pregnant women, which protects the mother and the new-born child,” says Dr B Modi, General Practitioner and Profmed board member. “This year however, government is prioritising flu vaccine for health workers as a precaution, especially during COVID-19.”

Lacy reiterates that the flu vaccination will not protect from contracting COVID-19. “It won’t protect you from other viruses, but consider the possibility that you can in fact contract COVID-19 and influenza at the same time. That would be a deadly combination of infection that you could avoid.”

In addition to co-infection, which is rare, getting a flu vaccination will help ease the inevitable strain on our healthcare system, which is something Lacy believes we are all responsible for upholding in these trying and unprecedented times.

“If you have a medical aid, there is no excuse. The flu vaccine should be covered. If you don’t have medical insurance, the vaccine costs around R100 and it will reduce hospital admissions for respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia,” adds Lacy.

Remember call in advance before going to get your flu vaccine at the pharmacy or the doctor’s office to ensure that there is adequate stock available for everyone and also to continue to practice social distancing

With or without a vaccination, Dr Modi says prevention is still the best cure, especially in the time of COVID-19. “Continue basic hygiene practices, wash your hands, remember coughing and sneezing etiquette, and limit contact with other people where you can. Going forward, these are the lessons we are not likely forget any time soon,” concludes Modi.

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