Saturday, December 4

This year’s flu season could be dire for the elderly

The virus, which dominates in Europe, is associated with a low vaccine effect, warns the European Infection Control Agency.

Each year, the elderly and other vulnerable people are encouraged to get vaccinated against influenza. This year can be very important.

Although the number of influenza cases detected in Europe remains low, the European Agency for the Control of Communicable Diseases (ECDC) is showing alarming signs. Among other things, an unusual number of cases have been reported in Croatia.

The virus variant that has dominated the last month is type A (H3N2). This is a variant that especially affects older people. It is also associated with low vaccine efficacy, the ECDC writes in a press release.

– Early detection of A (H3N2) is an indication that the flu season may be severe, although we cannot know for sure what the next flu season will look like, says Pasi Penttinen, director of the ECDC’s flu program.

The ECDC fears that many cases of influenza and an ongoing Covid-19 pandemic could have dire consequences for the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. It can put an additional burden on healthcare systems already struggling with COVID-19.

– It is still important to get vaccinated

This year, five different types of flu vaccines are offered in Norway. All are designed to work against four different viruses, including the A (H3N2) virus variant. But despite the fact that vaccines contain this variant of the virus, the effect against this virus is usually low, especially in the elderly.

This is because the elderly have often been exposed to this variant of the virus many times before. The virus has changed slightly over time, but the body will be able to react as if it were faced with the previous version of the virus.

– The vaccine will reduce the chance that you will get seriously ill, says immunologist and vaccine researcher Gunnveig Grødeland at UiO.

The elderly and other vulnerable people will still be affected by the vaccine, according to immunologist and vaccine researcher Gunnveig Grødeland of the University of Oslo.

– Although vaccines have a reduced effect, they work. They reduce the chance that you will get very sick if you have had the vaccine, as opposed to if you have not. It is still important for the elderly to take this vaccine, he says.

May cause an unusual number of deaths from influenza

Unusually, few got the flu last season, probably because the pandemic made people less in contact with each other. Now that people are coming into more contact with each other, one can risk an unusual number of deaths due to the flu.

– It has been said for a long time that one is afraid of a fairly severe flu season, so this year it is very important that all people in risk groups, including all people over 65, get vaccinated against the flu, says Grødeland.

– Should any precautions be taken in addition, since it is noted that the vaccine may not have such a good effect against this variant of the virus?

– In nursing homes, it may make sense for employees to get vaccinated to reduce the risk of infecting patients. People visiting nursing homes need to make sure they are healthy and free of respiratory infections, he says.

The crown pandemic caused the closure of the company. People also improved in personal hygiene. It also led to less flu infection.

Free vaccination for the elderly

– We do not have enough flu vaccines for the entire population of Norway. But we have enough for those to whom we recommend the vaccine, says pharmacist Kjersti Margrethe Rydland. She is the director of the flu vaccination program at NIPH.

This year, FHI recommends that everyone over the age of 65 get a flu shot, including those who do not have a chronic illness. This is because the immune system weakens a bit over the years. In addition, FHI recommends pregnant women in the second and third trimesters, people in risk groups and those that can infect anyone at risk, especially health professionals.

– What if you are healthy and want to get a flu shot?

– We do not recommend that anyone get vaccinated. But you have to pay for it yourself, unlike risk groups who get the flu shot for free, Rydland says.

– We have enough flu shots for those we recommend getting vaccinated, says Senior Advisor Kjersti Rydland at FHI.

You will soon know what flu season will be like

Since the flu virus did not circulate in the Norwegian population last year, we did not generate immune responses against the flu virus. Later may an influenza virus becomes milder the following year, but also tougher.

– We do not yet know if we have immune responses from 2019 that will help well in this flu season. This will become known relatively quickly after people start catching the flu here in Norway, says Gunnveig Grødeland.

She emphasizes that we are used to dealing with both flu and virus infection. The special thing about this fall is that we have the flu virus here and at the same time we have the coronavirus in Norway.

In week 41, there were only a few cases of influenza in Norway so far, according to the FHI report. In Europe, there are now more cases.

Many have questions about this year’s flu vaccine. Here you can read Gunnveig Grødeland’s answers to some of the most common questions:

– Those over 65 are strongly encouraged to get a flu shot this year, because we may not have as good immunity this year, says vaccine researcher and immunologist Gunnveig Grødeland.

– Is it a coincidence which flu shot you get?

– Every year you get a flu vaccine that contains carefully selected viruses. These are the viruses that are expected to circulate most likely and cause epidemics in the current year. This year, Norway has introduced a flu vaccine that is very effective in people over 65 years of age. That is very positive. Beyond that, it is exactly the same which flu vaccine they offer you.

– How do you know that the vaccines made this spring will work against the flu virus this season?

– It is one of the weaknesses of the vaccines we have now. Flu vaccines are made long before the season. The choice of which virus to include in the vaccine is based on observations in humans and animals from around the world.

For the most part, these tests make it pretty clear which viruses are included in the vaccine. So the vaccine has a good effect. Sometimes they miss something. But there is always some effect of flu vaccines.

– Is the distance of 1 meter effective against the transmission of the influenza virus?

– It is never possible to set a safe limit for the exact distance that is effective against virus transmission. But the further away you are, the more the risk of infection will be reduced. Local wind conditions, temperature, and how the virus reaches the air around us all come into play. If it comes with a strong cough, the virus will be able to move a good distance.

– What’s a simple tip right now?

-A vast majority of adults are now fully vaccinated against sars-cov-2, so for most of us this fall will be a more normal situation. That said, it is very important to stay home this year if you are sick.. But good hand hygiene is always wise. If you cough, it is also polite to keep your mouth shut.

– Is the goal to achieve herd immunity to influenza?

-No, when it comes to the flu vaccine, you think about the individual and to what extent they can tolerate being infected and sick with the flu virus. Therefore, it is highly recommended that the elderly and others in risk groups get vaccinated against the flu. We also think about the extent to which someone can infect others. Therefore, healthcare professionals are advised to get vaccinated against the flu.

Should Children Get a Flu Shot?

– Not recommended for children, but some children, such as diabetics, may benefit from the flu vaccine.

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