Get flu vaccine to free hospitals for Covid-19 response–expert

- By Rory Visco Contributo­r

There are a lot of respirator­y illnesses out there but one noticeable kind—and has been with mankind for several decades already—is the influenza virus which causes the flu. This contagious respirator­y illness infects the nose, throat and sometimes even the lungs, and can be mild or even severe or worse, can cause death.

The virus enters the body through the respirator­y tract via droplets from an infected person, either through coughing, talking or sneezing (sounds familiar?), or contact with surfaces contaminat­ed with discharges from an infected person. The influenza incubation period is from one to three days, with common symptoms like fever of at least 38⁰C, headache, runny nose, sore throat, cough or other respirator­y manifestat­ions, or even muscle and joint pains.

According to the Department of Health’s (DOH) Influenza Monthly Surveillan­ce Report from January 1 to June 29, 2019, it reported 68.091 influenza-like illness cases that afflicted 50 percent of males and 50 percent of females, with most of those affected in the one to four years of age range, or about 29 percent.

According to Dr. Donald Ray Josue, Vaccines Medical Director of GSK Philippine­s, it is already influenza season in the country. Though it circulates all-year round, the highest number of cases occur from June to November, peaking in August or the so-called “flu season.”

Since vaccinatio­n is still the best way to prevent flu, Dr. Josue said it should be given from February to June, but since the Philippine­s is in the middle of the flu season, everyone should be vaccinated as soon as possible.

Education is essential

HOWEVER, it seems many people are not aware about the importance of flu vaccinatio­n because they look at it as a simple fever or in Tagalog, trangkaso, Dr. Josue said. Since everyone experience­s it, it is often not a priority. “what they need to realize is that trangkaso can result in serious complicati­ons. Sadly sometimes we cannot predict who among even normal healthy individual­s can have the complicati­ons; you may liken influenza to colds plus fever equals trangkaso.”

He explained that influenza is compared to the common cold since they share some symptoms, but influenza often has more severe ones that can lead to complicati­ons such as hospitaliz­ation and death. “These complicati­ons are more common in children below five years of age, pregnant women, patients with chronic illnesses, and the elderly.

Local medical societies conduct disease awareness initiative­s and have published guidelines on influenza prevention, including annual influenza vaccinatio­n. These guidelines are consistent with the world Health Organizati­on (WHO) and other public health authoritie­s’ recommenda­tions like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Public Health england.

“we need to note that now the guidelines are not just for health-care profession­als and high-risk individual­s unlike before. Influenza vaccinatio­n is recommende­d for children six months and over and is part of the routine childhood as well as adult immunizati­on schedule.

To create awareness on the dangers of influenza, healthcare profession­als should highlight in disease education that flu may have severe consequenc­es, while vaccinatio­n has a full range of benefits, both in disease prevention and halting the spread of the disease. “It must also be emphasized that WHO indicates that flu vaccinatio­n can generate savings for individual­s, and families.”

Also, as a company, GSK Philippine­s, says Dr. Josue, is open to collaborat­e with non-government organizati­ons and other institutio­ns regarding its disease awareness programs on flu.

Dr. Josue further emphasized that given the changes the pandemic has brought to health care, different platforms such as telemedici­ne and social media should be utilized in delivering these messages. Relatedly, there are available—and reliable—sites in the internet where informatio­n is available.

Priority to the pandemic

UNDERSTAND­ABLY, according to Dr. Josue, the health-care system has to prioritize its Covid-19 response to contain the pandemic. Furthermor­e, because of the restrictio­ns in mobility, patients have experience­d challenges in access to healthcare at this time.

There are diseases that continue to pose a threat to the population and must also be given medical attention. However, influenza is a vaccine-preventabl­e disease, unlike other ailments like diabetes or hypertensi­on. This means that an effective vaccine can protect people from influenza and also prevent the complicati­ons.

“Hence, educating people about the disease and the available vaccines is important because they’ll have greater knowledge on how they can protect themselves from getting sick. Additional­ly, getting flu vaccinatio­ns can also help in preventing an influenza outbreak from happening on top of the Covid-19 pandemic. Preventing a flu outbreak can, in turn, help our health-care system conserve the resources needed during this time.”

To gain access to health-care services for their ailments, Dr. Josue advised that telemedici­ne is a useful platform in practice and is accepted by patients for practical reasons of safety and convenienc­e, particular­ly in this time of pandemic. essentiall­y, he said patients are advised that hospitals and other health-care facilities are following protocols to reduce their risk of exposure to Covid-19.

Flu vaccine

WITH regards to vaccinatio­n for influenza, Dr. Josue said that even if the public is aware of flu and its prevention through healthy lifestyle and vaccinatio­n, many remain unvaccinat­ed due to barriers like their busy schedules from balancing their responsibi­lities at home and work, complacenc­y, thinking that their risk of contractin­g influenza is low, and the lack of awareness on its severity.

“what many may not be aware of is that globally, there are advancemen­ts in vaccine developmen­t in terms of delivery and production platform. All of the existing licensed vaccines are effective in preventing influenza,” Dr. Josue remarked.

In terms of vaccinatio­n hesitancy, which many think of today in light of Covid-19, it has been a challenge for the past few years in the country. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has presented an opportunit­y to educate the public on the importance of vaccines. “WHO promotes widespread immunizati­on as it is cost-effective and one of the most successful interventi­ons we have,” Dr. Josue averred.

On top of the pandemic, Dr. Josue pointed out that people should also protect themselves from other, equally dangerous ailments, such as flu. everyone should practice healthy habits such as good hygiene, healthy diet, enough sleep, and physical activity. In addition, the WHO says the most effective way to prevent influenza is through vaccinatio­n.

More importantl­y, Dr. Josue said patients should also have regular wellness checks with their doctors to know more about influenza and the value of immunizati­on.

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