The flu epidemic opens the debate on the general vaccination of the population

The havoc that the flu is causing these last few weeks in the sanitary system (saturated hospitals and health centers, with a special impact on their Emergency services) force rethink how to approach winter seasons in the future. Of this opinion is the clinical head of the Infectious Diseases Unit of the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, Joaquín López-Contreras. “The health authorities, seeing that so many people at risk and healthcare If they get the flu, they should consider whether to vaccinate the general population”, points out.

Doctors believe that the calls to be immunized were poor: coverage in people at risk should reach 75% and this year it only reached 47%

The Ministry of Health and the Department of Health of Catalonia have for the moment ruled out immunizing the general population against the flu, according to sources consulted by EL PERIÓDICO.

Health and Health are not considering vaccinating the entire population against the flu for now.

For López-Contreras, however, universal coverage should be accompanied by other measures, such as having responsible behaviors (epidemiologically speaking) during Christmas. And, also, have a much greater impact on the vaccination campaigns.

“There is much more flu than other years. And now there is not only flu, but also covid-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). This puts the system in a situation again. delicate situation and makes us approach the winter seasons of the future”, assesses this infectious disease specialist. He also believes that the media They haven’t talked enough about the need to get vaccinated.

The flu vaccine is recommended for vulnerable groups

In Spain, the Ministry of Health recommends the flu vaccine for over 60 years of age, healthcare workers, pregnant women, immunosuppressed patients and, new this year, children between 6 and 59 months (five years). However, coverage has been low.

“If we achieved 75% coverage in the at-risk population, there would be no need to vaccinate the rest of the population”

Magda Campins

Vall d’Hebron Hospital

“The coverage achieved in children it has only been of 35% in Spain”, explains the epidemiologist and former director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Daniel López-Acuña. In his opinion, the entire population should be vaccinated against covid-19 and immunize “early” against flu to children under 5 years of age, over 60 years of age, at-risk patients, pregnant women and healthcare workers.

Insufficient coverage

The specialist in Preventive Medicine and Public Health of the Vall d’Hebron Hospital, Magda Campins, believes that, although vaccination of the general population could be “a possibility”, above all we must focus on achieving “good coverage” in the risk population. Insisting on vaccinating the most vulnerable is an idea that is also defended by the head of Preventive Medicine at the Hospital Clínic, Toni Trilla.

“If we could get coverage of the 75% in the risk population, It would not be necessary for the rest of the population to be vaccinated. But communication this year has been little and these messages have not been reinforced”, Campins says. In Catalonia, the flu vaccine was vaccinated this year. 47% of the target population, a percentage not only lower than the ideal, but also lower than that of previous years: in 2022 it was 52%; in 2021, 56%; and in 2020, 54%.

Although this year there has been more flu infections Even in pre-pandemic seasons, experts remember that there were years (like 2005, for example) in which peak It was similar to now. That is to say, such a high transmission is not unusual. As the head of the Clínic’s Virology Section and flu expert says, María Ángeles Marcos, this year the H1 and H3 variants of influenza A. “They are sequencing the samples to see if they have any particularities, that is, to see if the vaccine adjusts to the strains that circulate, but it is still too early to say,” explains this virologist.

Covid promoted massive sequencing techniques, something that now allows the flu virus to be better sequenced

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The information obtained in this regard will be used to develop the vaccine that will be put into the southern hemisphere. Flu vaccines are adapted year after year, as the flu virus “continuously evolves.” This means that vaccines are never as effective as, for example, those against covid. The effectiveness of the flu vaccine depends on the environment 60%. But, in addition, Marcos insists like his colleagues that this year people have been vaccinated “very little.” “The vaccine is very important. The flu has a high mortality”.

This doctor highlights that covid-19 promoted the massive sequencing techniques, something that allows now sequence much more than what was done before the flu virus. “Every time we will have more information of flu virus strains. These technologies they have been optimized and they are already being introduced hospitals, that now sequence more,” highlights the virologist.