Flu vaccine uptake “up till now” lacklustre

Flu vaccine uptake “up till now” lacklustre

Pneumologist associated with Pfizer warns “hospitalisations and deaths under notified”

Public health doctors are keen to encourage more people to come forwards for their annual flu vaccines.

Lusa and Correio da Manhã are carrying warnings today of the potential intensity of this winter’s flu virus.

Public health doctor Gustavo Tato Borges – the same specialist who has spoken out against the government’s decision to drop almost all Covid restrictions – has  been given space to say that one of the ‘unknowns’ about the coming flu season is whether or not there will be a ‘great adhesion’ to the vaccination campaign “which up till now has had little participation”.

Another ‘unknown’ is whether people will stick to the voluntary wearing of masks, he told CM.

Meantime, Filipe Froes – the pneumologist who has been associated with various pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer during the pandemic years – has been given ample space by State news agency Lusa to warn that hospitalisations for flu and deaths are being under notified.

Froes refers to the results of a study he coordinated which covered the flu seasons between 2008/ 2009 and 2018/ 2019, excluding the period of 2009/ 2010 when bird flu was declared a pandemic.

He explains the study was performed “to avoid modifications in results from the Covid-19 pandemic which arrived in Portugal in 2020”.

The bottom line is that flu seasons see an average in so-called ‘excess deaths’ of between 3,000-3,600 deaths, but these are never broken down into whether or not they were caused by this or that strain of flu. The person who passes the death certificate will not ask for a test to confirm flu. He/ she simply writes ‘respiratory infection’ as the cause of death, he said.

This perceived ‘under notification’ makes evaluation of the real impact of flu much more difficult.

The same problem comes with hospital admissions: “The number codified as associated with flu rarely exceed 2,000-2,500”, he added, stressing that what can happen is that people eventually admitted to hospital with other issues, often contract those other issues because of the fact that they have flu… This all adds to the “devaluing” of flu, he told Lusa.

Flu is particularly dangerous for people with ‘other comorbidities’, reiterated the specialist in an article that is clearly focused on encouraging people to come forwards and take up the government’s offer of a flu vaccine (which clearly is not happening in the quantities desired).

Numbers are given on the costs of flu, in terms of hospitalisations – €15.2 million for all age groups,  €12.8 million for the population over the age of 65- with Froes stressing that “in the face of the real dimension of the effects of flu on health services, namely in the resources consumed, even for those who have to pay for their vaccine (in which case the jab is 37% supported by the State), it is “one of the most profitable investments” that can be made every year.

There is no economic investment that gives such a return, because if you are ill, what you will pay in medication compensates for the investment made”, he said.

Lusa’s text concludes: “This was the first national study to estimate the epidemiological level of morbidity and death of flu”.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com