With the winter flu season fast approaching and an expected Covid-19 fifth wave, some health experts have suggested that South Africans get a double jab of the flu and Covid-19 vaccine.
During a media briefing on Wednesday, Dr Thinus Marais, African Zone medical head of Sanofi Pasteur, said that co-infection of flu and Covid-19 could result in more severe disease.
“Flu vaccination is critical, considering the possible co-circulation of both the flu and Sars-CoV-2 viruses in the absence of a hard lockdown.
“It is important to remember that the flu vaccine will not prevent Covid-19 and vice versa; therefore, it is important to ensure that you are vaccinated against both,” said Marais.
In his presentation, Marais made reference to a study conducted in the UK in 2020. The study found that co-infection with flu and Covid-19 was associated with a two times higher risk of death and intensive care unit admission, compared with Covid-19 infection alone.
Last week, the City of Cape Town said that clinics will be offering flu shots and Covid-19 vaccines to the elderly and other vulnerable people who may be at risk of developing severe disease.
South Africa’s Covid-19 vaccination programme initially recommended a 14-day interval between an individual receiving a Covid-19 vaccine and any other vaccination; however, the Department of Health said in February that this is no longer required.
“Covid-19 vaccines may therefore be administered with any other vaccines including live attenuated vaccines. It is recommended that the Covid-19 vaccine be administered to the left arm and the additional vaccine be administered to the right arm,” said the department.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), flu causes up to 650 000 deaths globally each year. In South Africa, more than 11 000 flu-related deaths are recorded annually and almost half of those who catch severe flu need hospitalisation.
Marais said that due to non-pharmaceutical interventions implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic such as mask wearing and social distancing, the numbers of flu cases reported in 2020 and 2021 were reduced.
“The flu virus remains unpredictable, and experts expect a resurgence of cases as population movements and habits return to normal,” he said.
While all age groups can be infected with both the Covid-19 virus and flu virus, groups who are at a higher risk for severe disease and death from co-infection include the elderly, people with chronic medical conditions, and those with immunosuppressive conditions.