Sat, October 16, 2021

in-focus

More groups to get annual flu jab as inoculation extended to year-end


The National Health Security Board (NHSB) has extended the government’s free flu-vaccination programme until the end of the year to compensate for disruption caused by Covid-19.

Only about 28 per cent of the target population has received the flu vaccine since this year’s programme launched on May 1, said the National Health Security Office (NHSO), which runs the programme.

A total of 6.2 million doses have been set aside this year, but only 1.7 million doses (28.05 per cent) had been administered as of August 6, said Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul.

The NHSB, which is chaired by Anutin, also consulted with the Department of Disease Control and resolved that three groups at risk from Covid-19 should also get free flu jabs this year. The three groups are: healthcare workers and others handling Covid-19 patients, people living, working or studying in crowded areas, and other people at risk from flu when the situation changes.

The three groups of people will receive flu jabs from October until the end of December, joining the seven groups encouraged to get vaccinated since May 1.

The seven groups are women from week 16 of their pregnancy, children aged six months to two years, people with any of seven chronic diseases – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, cancer that requires chemotherapy, and diabetes, people aged 65 and over, cerebral palsy requiring full-time assistance, thalassemia and immunodeficiency (including HIV Infected and Aids-related illness), and people weighing more than 100 kilograms or with a body mass index (BMI) of 35kg/m2 or higher.

This year’s flu vaccination programme is aimed at both preventing severe illness or death from influenza and avoiding confusion in diagnoses of flu and Covid-19, said deputy NHSO secretary-general Dr Jakkrit Ngowsiri.

The NHSO will next step up a public campaign to encourage these target groups to get the flu shot along with the Covid-19 vaccine. People can receive the flu jab before or after their Covid-19 vaccine but they must leave at least two weeks between the jabs.

People can also take the flu vaccine between their first and second shots of Covid-19 vaccine, Jakkrit said.

Free flu jabs are available at all state-run hospitals and healthcare facilities under the universal coverage scheme (UCS), but booking an appointment is highly recommended to avoid overcrowding, he said.

Many people are forgetting they need to get the flu shot as they are focused more on Covid-19 vaccination this year, said NHSB member Assoc Prof Dr Prasopsri Ungthaworn.

As a result, this year’s flu vaccination target has not yet been met, she said.

Now that the Covid-19 vaccination rate has improved significantly, with about half of the elderly population already fully vaccinated, many healthcare providers may now be more prepared for the extended flu vaccination programme, she said.

People who have received Covid-19 two shots and are eligible for the free flu jab are therefore encouraged to take it, she said.

They include front-line healthcare workers fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and people in crowded communities, including students returning to school for the upcoming term.

“We haven’t provided the flu shot to these additional groups before. But since the flu and Covid-19 appear to have similar early symptoms, it will become easier to tell which patients are likely to have Covid-19 if we can prevent them from contracting the flu,” she said.

People eligible for free flu jabs can book them individually or in groups at hospitals and medical clinics under the UCS, she said.

Priority is currently being given to school students because children aged under 12 are not yet eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine and will have to return to school soon for the new term, she said. These children should get the flu vaccine first so they are protected against the disease, she added.

Published : September 17, 2021