Will there be a flu epidemic at all?
Last year, WHO recommended strengthening seasonal influenza vaccination due to serious concerns that the simultaneous circulation of two dangerous infections could exacerbate the epidemiological situation. This did not happen: the incidence of influenza decreased significantly, and in the second half of the year practically disappeared, as evidenced by the epidemiological analysis.
According to scientists, it’s all about increased prevention and restrictions during a pandemic: as soon as people began to wear masks, wash their hands, maintain social distance and visit public places less often, the incidence of influenza plummeted.
But it looks like this year the flu may return: the head of Rospotrebnadzor Anna Popova said that epidemiologists expect an increase in the incidence in the fall.
“Most of the types of influenza caused by AH3N2 are being registered today – this is not the best prognostic sign,” said Popova. She added that due to the low incidence of influenza in the past year, the population did not develop an “immune layer”, which makes us more vulnerable to this infection.
American epidemiologists also predict a surge in the incidence of influenza in the new season. Influenza hospitalizations in the United States could rise by at least half a million this year from previous years, according to reports from the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health. Because of the weakening of herd immunity, young children are most likely to be hit by the new epidemic.
“As COVID-19 prevention measures, including masks, social distancing and school closings, have weakened in many countries, we are seeing a dramatic resurgence in other respiratory viruses that does not bode well for the upcoming flu season,” the scientists said in a statement.
Given these projections, this year’s mass vaccination will be a lifesaver as the flu epidemic could coincide with another surge in COVID-19.
What vaccine will be vaccinated?
This year, Russia will be vaccinated with updated vaccines, which, on the recommendation of WHO, included two new strains that had not previously circulated in our country.
In the trivalent vaccine, there are two variants of the A strain (Victoria / 2570/2019 (H1N1) pdm09 and Cambodia / e0826360 / 2020 (H3N2)) and the B strain (Washington / 02/2019), in the tetravalent one, the B strain (Phuket / 3073 / 2013).
The question of which vaccine is better – Russian or imported – is still controversial in the medical environment. Rospotrebnadzor insists that there is no difference: all vaccines are produced according to WHO recommendations and are based on an analysis of the characteristics of the circulation of strains. Pediatrician Fedor Katasonov, leading specialist at GSM Clinic, points out that there is not enough information about the safety and effectiveness of Russian vaccines to recommend them to children without a doubt.
As before, you can get a Russian vaccine for free at a clinic or vaccination center, but you will have to pay for the imported one – either in a private clinic or in a pharmacy.
What if I recently received the COVID-19 vaccine?
Rospotrebnadzor recommends vaccinating against both infections, but be sure to maintain an interval between vaccinations for at least a month.
However, some Russian doctors believe that the COVID-19 vaccine does not need the flu vaccine. Physician Lyudmila Lapa said that after vaccination against coronavirus, the interferon status rises, and the body can “fight off viruses and bacteria.” Allergist-immunologist Vladimir Bolibok adheres to the same opinion. But this opinion can hardly be considered an official recommendation, since there is no scientific confirmation of this position.
Note that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends combining influenza vaccination with one of the two components of the COVID-19 vaccine or booster vaccination.
Is it true that a flu shot can protect against COVID-19?
We will find out the unequivocal answer to this question later, when scientists collect enough data, but confirmation that influenza vaccination does have such a pleasant “side effect” has already appeared.
Scientists from Italy were the first to report this in September 2020, when they found that incidence rates of coronavirus among vaccinated elderly Italians were lower than among people who did not receive the vaccine. Another study conducted among employees of the Radbaud University Medical Center also found that people who got the flu shot were 39% less likely to become infected than their unvaccinated counterparts.
Later, American scientists said that the flu and pneumococcal vaccine provides potential protection against COVID-19 for children as well. In particular, children who were vaccinated against the flu were more likely to be asymptomatic compared to their peers who did not receive the vaccine. Moreover, they were less likely to show symptoms of other respiratory diseases. In young patients who received the pneumococcal vaccine, the symptoms of coronavirus infection were also significantly less common compared to those who were not vaccinated.
In a recent study involving 75,000 patients from the United States and the United Kingdom with confirmed COVID-19, scientists found that those vaccinated against the flu are less likely to develop severe complications after the coronavirus. People who did not receive the flu vaccine were more likely to end up in the intensive care unit.
“It is possible that the influenza vaccine does not specifically stimulate the immune system and creates a certain advantage for it,” the authors of the study said.