As cases of Covid are increasing across the globe and upcoming winters and seasonal flu may pose challenges to handle the situation, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended influenza vaccine to five high risk groups including pregnant women, people with underlying health conditions, older adults, health workers and children.
In a virtual press briefing, Dr Tedros Adhanom, WHO Director-General, informed that every year there are up to 3.5 million severe cases of seasonal influenza worldwide, and up to 650,000 respiratory-related deaths.
“During this year’s southern hemisphere winter, the number of seasonal flu cases and deaths was less than usual because of the measures put in place to contain Covid-19,” he added.
“But we cannot assume the same will be true in the northern hemisphere flu season. The co-circulation of influenza and Covid-19 may present challenges for health systems and health facilities, since both diseases present with many similar symptoms,” said Dr Adhanom .
The DG said that for that reason, WHO is working with countries to take a holistic approach to the preparedness, prevention, control and treatment of all respiratory diseases, including influenza and Covid-19.
“We don’t yet have a safe and effective vaccine for Covid-19, we do have safe and effective vaccines for influenza. WHO recommends influenza vaccination for five target groups: pregnant women, people with underlying health conditions, older adults, health workers, and children,” said Dr Adhanom.
“These groups remain important targets for influenza vaccination. However, one of the challenges we now face is that the demand for influenza vaccines may outstrip supply in some countries,” he said.
According to the WHO, the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization has therefore recommended that, among the five risk groups, health workers and older adults are the highest priority groups for influenza vaccination during the Covid-19 pandemic. Another under-utilized tool is the use of antivirals to treat people with influenza.