Flu season is upon us. According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of the Witwatersrand and the North West University, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu virus causes between 300,000 and 600,000 respiratory deaths globally each year, with the highest death rates in Sub-Saharan Africa.
As SA usually records the highest number of flu cases between May and September, people are now being encouraged to go for the flu shot, but many may be wondering if their Covid-19 vaccinations may have any bearing on their need to do so this year.
We asked the experts if it’s still important to get the flu shot this year if you’ve been vaccinated against Covid-19.
Here’s what they had to say:
PROF FRANCOIS VENTER
Divisional director of Ezintsha research group at the University of the Witwatersrand and an infectious diseases expert
Absolutely, especially as we are moving into influenza season! Even without Covid-19, there was tons of evidence that the influenza vaccine is a very good idea, especially for the elderly and vulnerable, children and pregnant women.
Much of the evidence comes from SA. If you needed any more convincing, we had data in March showing that, predictably, getting both influenza and Covid-19 together is far worse than getting just one.
The influenza vaccine is available at your local pharmacy and the two vaccines work just fine, even if given on the same day.
DR THINUS MARAIS
Medical head for Sanofi Pasteur Africa pharmaceutical company
Flu vaccination is even more important now, given that simultaneous infection with flu and Covid-19 can result in severe disease. In the UK, a study from January to April 2020 showed that co-infection with flu and Covid-19 was associated with a two times higher risk of death and intensive care unit admission, compared with Covid-19 infection alone.
Flu vaccination is critical, considering the possible co-circulation of both the flu and SARS-CoV-2 viruses in the absence of a hard lockdown.
It is important to remember that the flu vaccine will not prevent Covid-19 and vice versa; therefore, it is important to ensure that you are vaccinated against both.
In SA, annual flu recommendations encourage individuals at high risk of severe outcomes to get vaccinated. Remember that even healthy individuals who wish to protect themselves and those around them from getting the flu can consider vaccination annually.
PROF VERONICA UECKERMANN
Head of the infectious diseases department at the University of Pretoria
If you’ve had the Covid-19 vaccine you still need to get the flu vaccine. The former protects only against SARS-CoV2 while the latter protects against the influenza viruses (which we know can also cause severe disease).
PROF FELICITY BURT
Head of the research group in medical virology in the department of medical microbiology and virology at the University of the Free State
Definitely, yes. Influenza and Covid-19 are caused by different viruses and vaccines induce immune responses against the specific virus for which they were developed. Therefore vaccines do not provide any cross protection against a different virus.
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