Suffering from flu and covid at the same time doubles the risk of death among those most at risk, the medic leading the island's pandemic response warned, as he launched a major flu vaccination drive yesterday.
According to the Government, 47,000 islanders will be eligible for a free flu vaccine this year, with the annual campaign extended to 18,000 people aged 50 to 64 as part of a bid to avoid a double wave of both illnesses.
The Government hopes that at least 60% of eligible individuals will take up the offer, but ideally wants to see take-up around 70%.
The annual flu vaccine programme is a joint initiative supported by the Minister for Health and Social Services, the Minister for Social Security, government departments and GP Surgeries and Pharmacists.
Video: The Health Minister, Richard Renouf, and the Deputy Medical Officer for Health, Dr Ivan Muscat, launched this year's flu vaccination programme today.
The priority groups are the same as previous years.
These groups will be vaccinated in October, while 50 to 64-year-olds who do not fall within the ‘at risk’ group will likely get their jab in November.
All will be getting the flu vaccination for free after the Government decided to waive the normal £10 fee for one year only due to the “exceptional covid-19 situation."
It is hoped the initiative, funded through the Health Insurance Fund, will encourage more islanders to get vaccinated.
Pictured: The Government is encouraging islanders to be a "good influence".
According to the Government, a high uptake of the vaccine will help improve the general respiratory health of islanders and reduce the risk of islanders contracting both the flu and covid-19.
“We know that people aged 50 to 59 have a 1%, 2% mortality with covid, co-infection with influenza is considered to double that mortality,” Dr Ivan Muscat, the Deputy Medical Officer for Health, explained.
“Influenza in itself can cause a significant illness even if you don’t have any underlying risk factors at that age. So I think it’s reasonable to go for flu vaccination to help not just yourself but also to help others because if you are carrying covid, for example, asymptomatically, and get flu on top of it, then you will transmit covid-19 more efficiently and in that sense you will be passing infection onto the rest of the community.
“Additionally, of course, quite apart from co-infection, there is the risk from co-circulation of influenza and covid and the more they co-circulate, the greater the winter pressure effect will be felt. So, for a number of reasons, I think it’s reasonable for people to take up the flu vaccination if they are offered it.”
Pictured: It is hoped that close to two thirds of eligible islanders will get the jab.
Last year, just over a third (34%) of the population was vaccinated against the flu, but Dr Muscat said it has been a “very light flu season”.
“The uptake in the target groups has been of the order of 60% and we would like it very much for the uptake in the target groups to be closer to 70% this year because of course that will provide better protection,” he explained.
“It would be our wish to try and get above 60% of take up within the priority groups because of the benefits of having the vaccination now, the risk of covid-19 and the confusion that might arise between the two,” the Health Minister, Richard Renouf, explained.
“If our campaign can persuade more people to take the flu vaccination to avoid those difficulties and for the benefit of their health and the people that they might spread any infection to. We’ll have to see at the end of this season just what the numbers are, I really hope we can get above 60%.”
Islanders within the priority groups are encouraged to get their vaccine as soon as possible as at least 28 days need to elapse between the flu vaccine and the covid-19 vaccination, when it becomes available.
Pictured: The differences between flu and covid-19 as explained by Dr Ivan Muscat.
One of the other aims of the campaign is to avoid confusion between the flu and covid-19, whose symptoms are similar.
Dr Muscat reminded islanders of the differences between the two conditions. He reminded that symptoms tend to come on suddenly with the flu while covid symptoms usually come on more slowly.
“If we keep respiratory illnesses under control and limit the spread of flu, it will assist with the prevention of coronavirus and severe coronavirus infections,” he concluded in his speech.
“This year, it is vitally important to be vaccinated against the flu virus as quickly as possible. Please do not delay when flu vaccination is made available to you.”
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