“Collision epidemic” fears spurring campaigns to increase flu vaccination

Efforts to increase influenza vaccination rates to prevent a “clash epidemic” are hampered by limited supply as manufacturers struggle to meet demand.

Germany ordered 26 million flu vaccines prior to the winter in Europe, and health minister Jens Spahn said “not so many.” The UK government said it aims to vaccinate 30 million people this year, more than double that of 2019.

However, manufacturers say that such a sudden notice could not keep up with the growing demand. Along with Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline, Seqirus, one of the world’s top three producers of influenza vaccination, estimated that global production had increased by only 1-2 percent.

“When Sars-Cov-2 is duplicated [the virus responsible for Covid-19] Rebecca Jane Cox, a professor of medical virology at the University of Bergen, said: “The question is how difficult it is for the Northern Hemisphere to get the flu now.”

Cheryl Cohen, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, said: “The concern about epidemic conflicts is a concern. If two epidemics overlap, it’s clearly really worrisome.”

The World Health Organization warns of the difficulties faced by some countries in obtaining influenza vaccines as supply surges. “Please let us know whoever has the additional flu vaccine,” Anne Morne, head of the flu preparation and response group, said at a meeting last month.

According to the National Pharmacist Association, the 1.5 million doses Turkey expects to receive this year are inadequate. “At Covid-19, we think we need three to four times that,” said Erdogan Colac, president of the group. This claim has been refuted by the Turkish government.

People are waiting in line to receive the flu vaccine at a free mobile clinic in Lakewood, California © Etienne Laurent / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock

Concerned about the impact of the two respiratory illnesses on each other’s health care system, the government swiftly launched a rigorous influenza vaccination program instead of a previously voluntary and unforced campaign. I came to act on.

John McCaulejye, director of the Global Influenza Center at the Click Institute in London, said it would be “rejected” if the government did not increase flu shots this year. According to a study from the University of Oxford, the flu vaccine has prevented 15-52 percent of UK cases in the last five years. The broader range is that the vaccine is less compatible with circulating strains and is constantly mutating.

According to the WHO, up to 650,000 people die from the flu each year worldwide, compared to more than one million Covid-19s to date this year.

During the second wave of Covid-19, healthcare professionals administer influenza vaccine at a temporary immunization center in Las Rozas near Madrid © Pablo Blazquez Dominguez / Getty

Last year, before the coronavirus boosted demand for influenza vaccines, Seqirus estimated that 650 million doses of vaccine would be purchased by the government and health agencies in 2020, costing $ 5 billion.

After the Australian government called on more people to be vaccinated against the flu, vaccination imports surged from an average of 8 million in 2012-2017 to a record 18 million.

However, as demand surged, supply increased only slightly. “Manufacturers can extend the campaign to some extent, but the urgent notice limits what we can do,” said Beverly Taylor, head of influenza science at Seqirus. For large manufacturing scale-ups, companies usually need to be notified 12-18 months in advance.

“Some governments have provided things before they have a sufficient supply. They should have checked first,” she added.

“We are looking at all opportunities to increase and distribute influenza vaccines since 2020, but we expect demand to continue to exceed production capacity,” GSK said. “It is very difficult to quickly adjust production capacity as demand changes,” he said.

Weekly influenza cases per million people highlighting 202 compared to the last 5 years

Experts also pointed out that influenza levels have been very low so far in the Southern Hemisphere this year, usually peaking in June-August. The same tendency was observed with other serious respiratory illnesses such as Streptococcus pneumoniae, rotavirus, and respiratory syncytial virus.

Professor Cohen attributed this “unprecedented reduction” in cases of influenza to the measures taken to contain the coronavirus, including the use of masks, hand washing, and restrictions on mass assembly. School closures are also believed to have played an important role in the case of illnesses, such as influenza and RSV, in which children are responsible for the majority of the spread.

“You will be wondering if masks and social distance will help you in the future,” said McCauley.

However, the relatively low levels of influenza pose some challenges. First, scientists such as Macquarie spend several months each year analyzing new strains of influenza to regulate vaccine production the following year. It is difficult to know if new mutations will be detected unless the flu is outbreak. This means that the 2021 vaccine may be less effective.

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And some see the lack of flu so far this year as an ominous sign of what might happen. “Is this year’s lack of immunity likely to scale up the next epidemic?” Asked Professor Cohen.

Influenza experts agreed that the priority was to increase production and ensure that the public actually took the vaccine they had already procured. In Germany, for example, up to 8 million unused influenza vaccines are destroyed each year.

Additional report by Guy Chazan in Berlin and Laura Pitel in Ankara

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