Preventing the next pandemic: Experts urge public to get flu jabs

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Posted at Apr 15 2021 06:08 PM

Preventing the next pandemic: Experts urge public to get flu jabs 1
Electron micrograph of 1918 H1N1 influenza virus particles near a cell. Courtesy of US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

MANILA - Philippine health experts on Thursday called on the public to get vaccinated against influenza viruses while the world wrestled with the COVID-19 pandemic.

"As we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important not to become complacent about the risks posed by influenza," Dr. Jennifer Ann Wi, head-elect of the Asia Pacific Society of Respirology Tuberculosis Assembly, said at a "Health Connect" online forum.

"Influenza is more than just a respiratory disease. We don't want to wait until there is an influenza pandemic," she added.

Influenza, commonly known as flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, which can result in hospitalization or death especially among high-risk groups. 

The influenza A and B viruses, which routinely spread in people, are responsible for seasonal flu epidemics each year.

Wi said some 3 to 5 million severe illnesses and up to 650,000 deaths linked to seasonal influenza were recorded annually worldwide.

"COVID-19 will not be the world's last health emergency and there is an urgent need for sustainable health emergency preparedness to deal with the next one," she said.

In the Philippines, Wi said influenza caused "considerable mortality" to an extent far greater than observed from national statistics.

The annual rate of influenza-associated death in the Philippines is 5.09 deaths per 100,000 persons, she added. It is highest among those over 60 and below 5 years old.

Influenza infection occurs all throughout the year with increased activity from June to November.

During the forum, Wi stressed that influenza was not just a respiratory pathogen.

Infection with the influenza virus can result to pneumonia for those suffering from respiratory complications such as asthma.

Influenza can also lead to cardiovascular and renal complications such as stroke and acute kidney injury, she said. 

For example, if a person with diabetes contracts influenza, the patient has up to 6 times the risk of hospitalization, 4 times the risk of death from pneumonia, 4 times the risk of ICU admission and 6 times the risk of death.

Seasonal influenza has similar symptoms of COVID-19 such as fever, cough, difficulty breathing and vomiting, except for sudden loss of taste or smell.

Dr. Lulu Bravo, executive director of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination, said the public could receive the flu jabs while the COVID-19 vaccination drive was ongoing.

"Basta po 2 weeks before and 2 weeks after a COVID-19 vaccine, whether it is the first or second dose, puwede kayong magpabakuna," she said.

(You can get flu shots 2 weeks before and 2 weeks after a COVID-19 vaccine, whether it is the first or second dose.)

However, Bravo cautioned there should be proper interval in both vaccinations as authorities were still monitoring the possible effects of COVID-19 shots.

"In principle, dahil inactivated [vaccine] naman pareho, hindi masamang magsabay pero huwag muna ngayon dahil pinag-aaralan pa 'yong COVID-19 vaccine," Bravo said.

(In principle, because they're both inactivated vaccines, there's no harm if done simultaneously but not now because we are still studying the COVID-19 vaccine.)

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Courtesy of Philippine Medical Association Facebook Page