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FLU VACCINE

Will Switzerland be able to meet demand for the flu vaccine?

With the onset of cooler weather and the increase in coronavirus infections, the demand for the flu shot in Switzerland is higher this year than previously. But will there be enough doses for everyone who wants them?

Will Switzerland be able to meet demand for the flu vaccine?
The demand for flu vaccines is higher this year. Photo by AFP

Usually, Switzerland stocks up to 1.2 million doses of influenza vaccine for a population of 8.5 million This year, however the number of ordered doses has doubled.

The reason is the increase in demand, driven by the current Covid-19 pandemic, according to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH). 

While scientists believe an influenza vaccine is unlikely to protect against the coronavirus, the idea is to avoid co-infection of both diseases simultaneously. A double infection could have disastrous consequences, increasing death rates, especially among the elderly and other susceptible people.

Flu vaccine would prevent the overload of the health system, which is currently a huge concern, as many Swiss hospitals are already at their full capacity. 

READ MORE: Switzerland faces lack of hospital beds as coronavirus infections soar 

According to Christoph Berger, president of the Federal Commission for Vaccination Issues, “if the Covid-19 and flu viruses circulate at the same time, the health system will be saturated quite quickly, as the number of medical consultations, emergencies, and hospital stays increases”.

But as more people get vaccinated against the flu, “we will be able to maintain our health system”, he added.

Given the higher demand, will there be enough vaccines for everyone who wants them?

“For the moment, there is no risk of a general shortage”, FOPH spokesperson told RTS public broadcaster, though local shortages can occur.

As a precaution, cantons will prioritise their stock of vaccines.

“The goal is above all to vaccinate people at risk, and also healthcare staff, so there is less absenteeism due to the flu and Covid”, said Fribourg’s cantonal doctor Thomas Plattner.

Flu season in Northern Hemisphere typically peaks between December and March, although it could last longer.

Vaccines are usually administered in Switzerland starting in November and it takes about two weeks for immunity to develop.

 

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CHILDREN

EXPLAINED: Why Swiss doctors want to vaccinate children against the flu this year?

Ahead of the influenza season, Swiss health officials are recommending that children and babies from six months get the flu shot this autumn.

EXPLAINED: Why Swiss doctors want to vaccinate children against the flu this year?
Heath authorities recommend flu vaccine for children. Photo by AFP

Health authorities have suggested flu vaccinations for children in previous years as well, but it will be especially important in 2020 because of the ‘double threat’ of influenza and Covid-19 surging at the same time. 

Flu season typically peaks between December and February, but it can last longer.

The reasons for the recommendation are three-fold:

Children can get very sick from the flu.

According to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), children are more vulnerable to flu viruses because their immune system is less developed than that of adults.

Infants can suffer more serious and protracted complications, such as pneumonia.

“Unlike the coronavirus, the flu affects kids. Every year, there are hundreds of children hospitalised with flu in Switzerland”, Geneva pediatrician Dounia Cruzado said in an interview this week. 

READ MORE: Majority of Switzerland’s population 'wants to be vaccinated against Covid-19'
 

During the 2019 / 2020 flu season, babies and toddlers constituted the most affected age group, FOPH said.

“But many parents don’t think it’s a serious disease”, Cruzado noted.

Children can transmit the virus to others.

When it comes to respiratory viruses like the flu, children are well-known vectors of infection.

By coughing or sneezing, infected children can easily contaminate elderly people, like their grandparents, who are at an increased risk of flu-related complications.

“This year, we focus on vaccinating everyone who has contact with people at risk, including those over 65 years of age”, Christoph Berger, president of the Federal Commission for Vaccination Issues, told SFR broadcaster.

Prevent the overload of the health system

“If the Covid-19 and flu viruses circulate at the same time, the health system will be saturated quite quickly, as the number of medical consultations, emergencies, and hospital stays increases”, Berger said.

But as more people get vaccinated against the flu, “we will be able to maintain our health system”, he added.

Is the flu vaccine safe for young children?

Vaccine skeptics argue that children should develop their own defenses against viruses.

Berger disagrees. “When you vaccinate children against the flu, they form antibodies against the antigens in the vaccine – and these are the same as those that circulate with the flu”.

However, unlike the flu, the vaccination doesn't make you sick”, he added.

Does Switzerland have enough vaccines?

Switzerland’s flu vaccine stock is 1.2 million doses for a population of over 8 million — not enough to immunise everyone.

There has never been more than a million vaccinations against influenza per year in Switzerland, but given that this year more people may choose to get the shot, there may be a shortage of vaccines.

Should face masks be used instead of the vaccine?

While authorities say the vaccine is still the best protection “we already have interesting data which shows that when masks are worn, there is less flu “, said Geneva pediatrician Alessandro Diana. 

“I am amazed at the ability of some children as young as six to handle and be skilled in wearing a mask”, he added.

 


 

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