Flu vaccines can help fight Covid-19 - but South Africa doesn't have enough

Business Insider SA
  • Health minister Zweli Mkhize has announced that SA will start to rationing flu vaccines. 
  • He said the country has received limited stock, and will rather prioritise vaccinating healthcare workers. 
  • Experts say the vaccine will ease pressure on the health system and clear up confusion. 
  • For more stories visit Business Insider South Africa.

The South African government will start rationing the distribution of the flu vaccine, even though it is ineffective against the novel coronavirus or SARS-CoV-2. 

The flu vaccine is designed to protect people against influenza viruses and is updated annually to keep up with various strains.

It will not prevent novel SARS-CoV-2 infection but may reduce pressure on South Africa's health system caused by the flu and reduce the risk for vulnerable people.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said South Africa would be rationing the distribution of the vaccine to give priority to healthcare workers in the country. 

He said South Africa received very limited stock of the flu vaccines because the Covid-19 pandemic wasn't anticipated when orders were placed a year ago. 

"This is precipitated by the fact that the country cannot afford to have [healthcare workers] sick, especially as the flu season approaches," Mkhize said. 

"This is one of the major lessons that we have learnt from countries that have experienced the Covid-19 pandemic."

Stellenbosch University's Medical Virology division head, Professor Wolfgang Preiser, said the vaccine should especially be given to people in high-risk groups, such those younger than 3 and older than 65. 

If people in these brackets get both the coronavirus and typical flu it can cause serious illness which can be fatal, Preiser told Business Insider South Africa. 

Critical Care professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, Guy Richards, said getting the flu vaccine can help clear up confusion between the flu and Covid-19 because there are symptom similarities.

This could make it easier to understand whether a doctor or other medical worker has the coronavirus or typical flu. 

"It has no side effects. It cannot cause 'flu' or a cold and the most you can get is a sore arm at the site of the injection, responsive to Panado," Richards told Business Insider SA.

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