Why South Africans should get the flu vaccine now to help the fight against Covid-19

Business Insider SA
  • Local health experts believe all South Africans should get the standard seasonal flu vaccine, to reduce pressure on the country’s health care system in light of the new coronavirus. 
  • The general flu kills roughly 12 000 people in SA annually. Fewer cases can free up resources to better deal with Covid-19. 
  • People who get both coronavirus and flu will also likely have serious cases which will require hospitalisation. 
  • And though the flu vaccine won't stop SARS-CoV-2, it could help prevent confusion, due to the similarity in symptoms. 
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All South Africans should get this year’s regular seasonal flu vaccine, especially in light of the coronavirus epidemic, even though it will not stop Covid-19, local health experts believe.

The flu vaccine is designed to protect against infection by influenza viruses and is updated to keep up with rapid changes in those viruses. It will not prevent infection with the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus, though.

But it could reduce strain on South Africa's health system, just as the new virus hits.

Both Clicks and Dis-Chem pharmacies have recently started offering the standard vaccine in the run-up to South Africa’s winter season, when flu cases typically increase. 

Stellenbosch University’s Medical Virology division head, professor Wolfgang Preiser, said that while there is currently no vaccine against the coronavirus, the flu vaccine can help reduce the 12,000 yearly flu-related deaths in South Africa. 

If the health care system has to deal with fewer flu-related cases, it will free up precious resourced to deal with the coronavirus epidemic, Preiser told Business Insider South Africa. 

“Should someone also get both [diseases] together, especially if they belong to one of the risk groups such as those younger than three and older than 65, it would likely cause serious illness,” Preiser said. 

University of Witwatersrand Critical Care professor Guy Richards said getting the flu vaccine can help clear up confusion that could arise because the regular flu and Covid-19 share some symptoms. Plus there is no reason not to get the vaccine, he said.

“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.

University of Cape Town virology lecturer Marvin Hsiao said the flu vaccine is the best weapon to combat the high mortality rate associated with flu in South Africa. 

“During the Covid-19 epidemic where health resources will be scarce, it is even more important to reduce the need for hospitalisation” Hsiao said. 

“Influenza and its complication may also worsen the disease outcome of Covid-19 if one becomes infected with it as well.”

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