Health workers are to be prioritised to receive the flu vaccine this year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. As the vaccines are pre-ordered a year in advance and the outbreak was not anticipated at the time, South Africa only received 1.2 million vaccinations. In an earlier interview with MedBrief Africa Prof Shabir Madhi, Professor of Vaccinology at the University of the Witwatersrand advised that pregnant women should also been prioritised to receive the vaccine.

Mkhize said that government had engaged with the pharmaceutical industry and it “became clear that the distribution of this vaccine has to be rationalised and prioritised”.

“We have therefore taken a decision that health workers in the country will be given priority in receiving the flu vaccine. This is precipitated by the fact that the country cannot afford to have them sick especially as the flu season approaches,” the minister explained.

Although the flu vaccine cannot prevent or combat the coronavirus, it has a very important role to play in reducing the number of people getting the flu and being hospitalised for severe flu symptoms. It can also help in reducing the numbers of people that are to be tested for COVID-19 because of the many overlapping symptoms between influenza viruses and the novel coronavirus.

It is therefore imperative that health workers ensure that they receive the flu vaccination to ensure that they don’t get sick and have to stay at home because of influenza.

Speaking in an interview with 702 last week Prof Wolfgang Preiser from the Division of Medical Virology at Stellenbosch University also urged healthcare workers to ensure that they get the flu shot this year. According to Prof Preiser, the annual uptake of flu shots healthcare workers in South Africa is extremely low.

The flu vaccine can’t protect them against COVID-19 but it can ensure that they don’t get flu from patients or transmit it to their patients, relieving the burden on a healthcare system that is expected to be extremely overstressed as the pandemic spreads in South Africa, Prof Preiser stressed.

It is estimated that around 12 000 people die in South Africa each year because of flu.