The coming winter could be an “explosive” flu season. So say Jaap van Dissel, head of the Center for Infectious Disease Control at the RIVM, and virologist Marion Koopmans, head of the National Influenza Center. Due to the corona measures, there has been hardly any flu in the past year and a half. A mild flu season is usually followed by a more severe flu wave with an average of 60 percent more infections.
If such a new peak in flu cases coincides with the new Covid 19 wave that RIVM expects this winter, healthcare could run into problems. Koopmans called this a “realistic scenario” at a symposium at the Ministry of Health on Monday.
In the Netherlands, the flu seemed to have disappeared for a long time, for months not a single case was found. In recent weeks, “a handful” of patients have turned up, Koopmans said. These indicate that the flu virus will return this winter. Larger numbers of flu patients are already being found in southern Europe.
According to Koopmans, the flu season can become intense because far fewer people have been infected with the influenza virus for a year and a half. As a result, immunity among the population has decreased. Research shows that about 25 percent more people are susceptible to the virus this winter. This was also visible in the RS virus: there was a peak of infections in the summer, while it is normally a winter virus.
The flu viruses currently circulating do not quite match the cocktail made for the flu vaccine. Normally, all information is put together in February to develop an optimal flu vaccine for the autumn, Koopmans explained. “We now miss that information, because the flu was barely there due to the corona measures.” That does not mean that the flu vaccines do not work at all, according to Koopmans the effectiveness is then “slightly less”.
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Van Dissel of the RIVM referred to the severe flu wave in the winter of 2017 and 2018 that caused problems in hospitals. Almost ten thousand. It turned out that the vaccine was then about 60 percent effective. That is less than with the corona vaccines, but still good enough to prevent many hospital admissions. Van Dissel and Koopmans call on everyone who receives a call for the flu vaccine to take it too.
In previous years, there was a turnout of around 60 percent among vulnerable groups. The turnout among healthcare workers is much lower, between 10 and 30 percent. Van Dissel hopes that many more healthcare providers will get the shot this year, especially to protect their vulnerable patients. “Flu is not a joke,” said Van Dissel.
Professor of global health economics Maarten Postma of the University of Groningen argued that children should also be vaccinated against the flu, as is the case in the United Kingdom. This gives the flu virus less chance to circulate quickly. The Health Council recently advised against vaccinating young children because “the expected health benefits of vaccination in children lie primarily with other risk groups, and hardly with the children themselves.” Pregnant women and people with morbid obesity can report to their GP for the flu shot.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on October 12, 2021
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of October 12, 2021