Barts-MS rose-tinted-odometer: ★★★★★
I think COVID-19 has just cancelled the flu season.
I and many public health officials were very concerned that we were heading for a double-whammy this winter with a second and third surge of COVID-19 and a bad influenzae pandemic superimposed on it. It is looking like this may not happen. In the Southern hemisphere, including my country South Africa, it seems as if the flu season was cancelled. Incredibly the number of documented annual cases has dropped by over 99% (see table below).
It is clear that the behavioural changes we have put in place, such as social distancing and wearing of masks, has prevented the spread of influenzae virus. Will these behaviours become the new norm during future flu seasons? I am not sure if people realise that influenzae is one of the biggest infectious disease killers each year so preventing the spread of the virus via behavioural change makes sense.
Saying this the UK Government has just ordered many more doses of influenzae vaccines than it normally does and is extending the so-called at-risk adult group who can get the vaccine free on the NHS this year.
Does this change our recommendations regarding getting the annual flu-jab? No, it doesn’t. All pwMS should take up the offer by the NHS to get the annual flu vaccine.
Please note, if you are severely immunosuppressed and have small children, please make sure they don’t get the live intranasal flu vaccine at school. There is a risk that this attenuated vaccine strain, which they may bring home, will cause disease in severely immunocompromised subjects. If you want your children to be vaccinated against influenza they will need to be given the component vaccine by injection. The latter is done via GP practices and some pharmacists. Please note it is only patients recently treated with alemtuzumab and HSCT that fall into this category.
I suspect that after reading the post on complications in the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine study many of you are nervous about vaccinations in general. Please don’t be. The regulatory authorities assess the efficacy and safety of all vaccines and make an informed decision that at a population level the risks justify the benefits. Influenzae vaccination is the most studied vaccine in pwMS and it has been shown to be safe, i.e. it does not appear to trigger relapses and/or MRI activity.