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Getting a flu vaccination in 2022 is a very good idea. Here's why

03 May 2022 Discovery

This flu season, for the third year in a row, we face the risk of getting flu (caused by Influenza viruses) and COVID-19 (caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus) at the same time.

Flu and COVID-19 are different illnesses. They are however both spread through respiratory droplets, which the body releases when we talk, cough or sneeze. And, some people can get very sick from either virus, or both.

“This is why many people have already jumped at the chance to have their 2022 flu shot,” says Dr Noluthando Nematswerani, Head of the Discovery Health Centre for Clinical Excellence.

“As with COVID-19, elderly people and people with underlying medical illnesses who get flu can experience severe illness that may require hospitalisation. The flu and COVID-19 vaccine can prevent this.”

South Africa has also since mid-April seen a spike in COVID-19 cases driven by Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5. Vaccination against COVID-19 remains an important intervention in protecting against severe illness and death and when it comes to the flu, this year’s vaccine provides protection from serious illness."

• Good to know: This year there are two kinds of flu vaccine available - a three-strain and a four-strain vaccine. Dr Nematswerani encourages you to have whichever vaccine you have access to at your healthcare facility. Both provide protection against severe flu illness.

Yes, you can get vaccinated against the flu and COVID-19 at the same time

You can get your flu and COVID-19 vaccine (and many other vaccines) at the same time administered on different arms. And, if you've had flu or COVID-19 and recovered, then it's safe to have your COVID-19 and flu vaccine.

Respiratory illness cases are already on the rise

“COVID-19 lockdown restrictions and related preventative measures impacted the spread of other respiratory pathogens, thus suppressing the flu activity over the past two seasons. However, lab reports from January 2022 show an increase in cases of other respiratory illnesses and common cold cases (the common cold is different from the flu but also caused by viruses) to pre-COVID-19 levels. So, this flu season could see a notable number of infections.”

"Most people who get flu have mild illness with symptoms like fever, cough, headaches, muscle and joint pains, a sore throat and runny nose, and generally feeling unwell. However, for some people, flu may be severe resulting in hospitalisation and death " explains Dr Nematswerani.

- Did you know that before the COVID-19 pandemic, South Africa lost around 11,000 people to the flu every winter? Globally, just over half a million people were dying from flu-related complications each year.

Flu vaccines are highly recommended for people most at risk of serious flu, including:

1. People aged 65 or over
2. Children aged six months to five years
3. People living with HIV
4. People who are pregnant or postpartum (usually, the first six weeks after childbirth) - the flu vaccine is safe to have while breastfeeding
5. People who have a chronic health condition (like asthma, bronchiectasis, chronic renal disease, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes)

The flu vaccine is also a must for anyone who interacts with vulnerable people who are at increased risk for severe flu as it lowers the risk of them becoming infected and passing it on. This includes health care workers.

4 flu vaccine facts you need to have top of mind

1. Getting a flu vaccination cannot give you flu. It simply trains your body to develop the antibodies that protect against infection and serious illness
2. After your vaccine, it takes about two weeks for antibodies to develop.
3. The flu vaccine has an excellent safety record. Common, minor side-effects include pain or redness and swelling at the injection site; headache; fever; or body aches. These clear up within a day or so.
4. We have access to new flu vaccines every year because flu viruses change constantly. The vaccines are made to match circulating flu variants during the season as closely as possible.

“Here’s the take-home message,” adds Dr Nematswerani. “This year, in the ongoing context of COVID-19, our flu vaccines are a must. Flu vaccines are safe, and they protect us and others against developing serious flu-related illness. They are available at our local clinics, doctors’ rooms and at most pharmacies.”

Quick Polls

QUESTION

There are countless articles written about South Africa’s poor retirement outcomes. Which of the following would you single out as the biggest contributor to local savers not accumulating enough to buy an adequate and sustainable pension?

ANSWER

Lack of personal accountability
Poor participation in formal retirement funds
Reluctance to seek financial advice early on
SA’s high unemployment rate
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