The flu can cause up to 5 million cases of respiratory disease globally and 650,000 deaths each year1. This 2022-23 flu season in the Northern Hemisphere arrived earlier than expected23 and we are also seeing a concerning increase in the number of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases3. The 2022-23 flu season preliminary data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that in the US alone, there have already been an estimated 22-43 million illnesses caused by influenza, 10-21 million medical visits, 230,000 – 490,000 flu hospitalisations, and 14,000 – 43,000 flu deaths4. This is an incredible strain on the healthcare system.
In addition to the increased circulation of influenza and RSV, COVID-19 remains a threat to our health services and the most vulnerable members of our communities. The latest COVID-19 variant, XBB.1.5, deemed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as ‘the most transmissible’5 variant is now the dominant strain in parts of the US, and it is causing an increase in the number of hospital admissions6. This is coupled with a possibility of a second influenza B wave, so it is important to keep speaking to your patients and communities about the flu vaccination. In Europe, the current difficult influenza and RSV season is already putting severe pressure on Europe’s healthcare systems6. To safeguard the most vulnerable people in our communities and our healthcare systems, it is vital to promote the influenza vaccine, get vaccinated against the flu yourself and receive the latest COVID-19 booster vaccine.
We spoke to Rúben Viegas, from the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP), to understand the role pharmacists play in encouraging members of their community to get the COVID-19 and flu vaccines at the same time. FIP has recently issued guidance to pharmacists on safe coadministration of influenza and COVID-19 vaccines.
What is coadministration?
Coadministration of vaccinations is when people who are eligible to be vaccinated against different illnesses receive the different vaccines during the same healthcare visit.
Is coadministration safe?
Scientific evidence and WHO guidelines support that coadministration of influenza and COVID-19 vaccines with inactivated vaccines is acceptable in terms of safety and reactogenicity, as well as efficacy and immunogenicity.
What are the benefits of coadministration?
Coadministration is convenient, saves time, avoids missed opportunities and provides a safe and effective win-win for people and healthcare professionals.
How can pharmacists leverage their position, their accessibility and convenience and professionalism in the community to build confidence in vaccines and coadministration?
Each time a person walks into a pharmacy is an opportunity to engage in conversations about vaccination. Pharmacists can highlight the importance of vaccination to high-risk groups, as these people frequently visit community pharmacies to access medicines and services. High-risk groups for flu and COVID-19 vaccination include older adults and people with comorbidities, among other groups that pharmacists may target.
- Influenza (Seasonal). WHO. Available at: https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/influenza-(seasonal). Accessed on: 9 January 2023
- Flu off to an early start as CDC warns about potentially severe season. NBCnews. Available at: https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/flu-early-start-cdc-warns-potentially-severe-season-rcna52115. Accessed 11 January 2023.
- Risk of severe pressure on healthcare systems due to RSV, flu and COVID-19 co-circulation. ECDC. Available at: https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/news-events/risk-severe-pressure-healthcare-systems-due-rsv-flu-and-covid-19-co-circulation. Accessed on 9 January 2023.
- 2022-2023 U.S. Flu Season: Preliminary In-Season Burden Estimates. CDC. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/preliminary-in-season-estimates.htm. Accessed on 11 January 2022.
- WHO warns of most transmissible subvariant, questions China’s covid data. The Washington Post. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2023/01/05/new-omicron-variant-xbb15-covid-who/. Accessed on: 6 January 2023.
- New variant XBB.1.5 is ‘most transmissible’ yet, could fuel covid wave. The Washington Post. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2023/01/08/new-covid-variant-xbb15/. Accessed on: 09 January 2023.