Flu jab campaign needed for younger at-risk groups, scientists say

A flu vaccination campaign is needed to target younger clinical risk groups to combat the risk of coronavirus co-infection in the winter, scientists have warned.

Documents released by the Government’s Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) committee indicate that experts are concerned about the number of people of people in risk groups that do not get the jab.

In a meeting on July 14, Sage recommends ensuring that at risk groups are made aware of the potential impact of Sars-CoV-2 infection.

It notes that the take up of the flu jab in the risk group of those aged 65 and over is good at 71.6%, but not in the younger clinical risk groups, with a 43.1% take up in under 65 years and 42.8% in pregnant women.

In the document, the advisers say: “We recommend with high priority a campaign to target these groups to mitigate the risk of co-infection this winter.

“We also note that the use of the live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) in children reduces the incidence of community transmission of influenza virus.

“If there are widespread school closures in a second wave then this will affect uptake of this vaccine.

“Therefore, we recommend with high priority alternative options for delivery of this program are considered and how uptake rates of LAIV can be sustained/maximised.”

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

In the same paper the Government advisers say that we should expect co-infections and therefore prepare accordingly.

According to the document, co-infection with flu has been identified in other severe coronavirus infections including patients with Mers.

The advisers also considered the role of  point of care diagnostics (POCT) – tests designed to be used near the patient site which do not require a dedicated permanent area and are conducted outside clinical spaces.

Clinical symptoms will be similar for all respiratory viruses, especially with flu co-infection, therefore laboratory tests are crucial to establish viral diagnosis.

The scientists say laboratories should be supported in delivering Sars-CoV-2 multiplexed with respiratory virus diagnostics.

There is established evidence for the clinical benefit of POCT for respiratory viruses (published PHE guidance) in terms of infection control measures and patient flow within hospitals, they write.

They recommended as a high priority that a Covid-19 POCT is developed or made available aligned to the PHE recommendations, and that wherever possible, Sars-CoV2 POCT is provided alongside Flu POCT.

They add that it is anticipated that if there is co-circulation of flu and Covid-19 there will be logistical problems, including significant ITU pressure and PPE usage.

The documents that were released on Friday also look reasonable worst case scenarios for the pandemic.

On March 25, post-lockdown, the scientists estimated 65,000 deaths by September.

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