Healthcare workers have again been urged to get vaccinated against the flu this year as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to put stress on healthcare systems.

Speaking at an Influenza Media Briefing webinar, Dr Thinus Marais, Medical Head: Africa Zone, Sanofi Pasteur emphasised the importance of healthcare workers getting the flu shot, quoting data from a systematic review that compared the incidence of flu in healthy adults and healthcare workers. The review found a significantly higher incidence of flu among healthcare workers.

Dr Marais also urged healthcare workers to recommend the flu jab to their patients, adding that studies have shown that when a medical professional recommends vaccination, patients are more likely to get it.

“Due to non-pharmaceutical interventions such as mask wearing and social distancing, the numbers of flu cases reported in 2020 and 2021 were reduced.  However, the flu virus remains unpredictable, and experts expect a resurgence of cases as population movements and habits return to normal,” Dr Marais noted.

Co-administration of flu and Covid-19 vaccines

The briefing came a few weeks after a study published in The Lancet found that patients admitted to hospital with Covid-19 and the flu at the same time are at a two times higher risk of severe disease and death compared with patients who have Covid-19 alone or with other viruses.  

“Flu vaccination in the COVID-19 pandemic context is an important consideration, as it aims to prevent the risks associated with co-infection and could relieve the burden on healthcare systems,” said Dr Marais.

Last month, the Department of Health gave the go-ahead for the co-administration of the Covid-19 and flu shots as long as the two vaccinations are administered in different arms.  Earlier, a 14-day interval between the Covid- and other vaccines was recommended. 

“Co-administration of vaccines is essential to increase the immunisation coverage of all vaccines including but not limited to, influenza and human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines. Healthcare workers are encouraged to review the vaccinee’s immunisation history, identify any vaccines that the vaccinee may be eligible to receive (based on relevant vaccine schedules) and administer the required vaccines,” the DoH said in a circular.

Flu vaccination in children

Another key at-risk group to consider is children. Flu vaccination provides protection against four key flu strains for children from the age of 6 months. A recent study in South Africa found that young children had the most cases of symptomatic flu illness and were more likely to spread the flu to people in their household. Targeting vaccination towards children not only has the potential to reduce symptomatic disease in this at-risk group, but also of reducing transmission in the community. 

Who should not get a flu shot

The flu vaccine should not be administered to people with history of anaphylaxis (severe allergic/hypersensitive reactions) following receipt of any vaccine component, including eggs, neomycin or polymyxin antibiotics; those with a history of severe reaction to previous flu vaccination; people who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome within 6 weeks of receiving a flu vaccination; and children < 6 months old. 

Quadrivalent flu vaccine 

The quadrivalent Vaxigrip Tetra vaccine produced by Sanofi Pasteur complies with the WHO’s Southern Hemisphere recommendations for the 2022 season and protects against the following strains: an A/Victoria/2570/2019 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus; an A/Darwin/9/2021 (H3N2)-like virus; a B/Austria/1359417/2021 (B/Victoria lineage)-like virus; and a B/Phuket/3073/2013 (B/Yamagata lineage)-like virus.