Flu vaccination 2020: news for the coming autumn.

The start of the flu vaccination campaign for the 2020-2021 season has been brought forward compared to the previous 2019-2020 season and is scheduled for the beginning of next October. This decision is shared by all of the Healthcare Companies in Italy and is dictated by the aim of achieving greater vaccination coverage for those at risk, for the categories for which flu vaccination is strongly recommended (the elderly and Healthcare Workers in particular), and for the Italian population as a whole.

Given the public health emergency caused by COVID-19, citizens have found themselves experiencing an unprecedented period of disorientation, discouragement and bewilderment. The discrepancy in the number of positive cases among the different Italian regions, the relative mortality, the high contagiousness of SARS-CoV-2 and the urgent need to make a vaccine available have certainly had a decisive impact on the real awareness of health risks.

The altered perception of a health risk such as the one we are facing in this particular period in time, in fact, has a significant impact on the health decisions of the population, in particular on the use of Health Services, and can lead to inappropriate behaviours which do not comply with the recommended public health measures.

This is even more worrying if you consider the fact that the coverage for influenza vaccination in recent years has undergone a significant drop, and that the symptoms of SARS-CoV-2 infection are very similar to those of seasonal flu (almost overlapping). Thus, the hypothesis of a concomitance between seasonal flu and the possible persistence or resurgence of COVID-19 greatly concerns public health professionals, especially in relation to the fact that the onset symptoms of the two pathologies will certainly place a significant burden on health services, with serious difficulties in diagnosis and possible consequent failings.

In this regard, on July 14, in Brussels, a document of preparedness was presented by the European Union Commission (Attachment 1), containing all the necessary actions to enable a prompt response to a possible new wave of COVID-19 infections in European countries and to address any related outbreaks by: testing and tracing patients and COVID-19 positive contacts, improving public health surveillance, increasing flu vaccination coverage and giving wider access to medical countermeasures, such as personal protective equipment, medicines and medical devices.

Therefore, flu vaccination assumes a decisive importance in that, by preventing influenza, it excludes the confounding factor dictated by the symptomatology which is similar to that caused by COVID-19. It thus offers a double advantage: facilitating the distinction between the two diseases (inluenza and COVID-19) and protecting people at risk of developing serious forms of flu.

In this landscape, the Ministerial Circular (Attachment 2) "Prevenzione e controllo dell'influenza: raccomandazioni per la stagione 2020-2021" (Link to the recently updated Vaccinarsinardegna.org page - Prevention and control of flu syndrome) recommends even greater adherence to flu vaccination, advising bringing forward the flu vaccination campaigns to the start of October 2020 and offering vaccination to eligible subjects at any time during the flu season (even if late compared to the recommended vaccination times).

For the coming season, therefore, seasonal flu vaccination is as always recommended and offered actively and free of charge to those categories considered at risk, including: women who are pregnant or in the 'post-partum' period at the beginning of the epidemic season; elderly people with pathologies that increase the risk of flu complications; children and adolescents undergoing long-term treatment with acetylsalicylic acid, at risk of Reye's Syndrome in the event of flu infection; individuals of any age hospitalised in long-term care facilities; family members and contacts (adults and children) of subjects at high risk of complications (regardless of whether the subject at risk has been vaccinated or not); public sector keyworkers in health services, education, police forces etc; workers who, for professional reasons, are in contact with animals that could be a source of infection with non-human flu viruses (such as breeders and public veterinarians) and blood donors.

In addition, the Circular recommends wide-reaching flu vaccination also for population cohorts considered not at risk and supports the implementation of initiatives aimed at promoting adherence to flu vaccination by expanding the offer: flu vaccination for the coming winter season will in fact be offered free of charge to all children from 6 months to 6 years and to the elderly from 60 years of age (as well as for the categories indicated by the PNPV 2017-2019) (Attachment 2).

Furthermore, various Italian regions, including Lazio and Campania, have decided on specific regulations for each territorial context regarding the flu and pneumococcal vaccination strategies for the 2020-2021 season, initiating procurement well in advance. This according to the latest weekly report by the dell'Alta Scuola di Economia e Management dei Servizi Sanitari dell' Università Cattolica (Catholic University of Rome’s School of Economics and Management of Health Services), which underlines that, in view of the coming autumn and any critical issues that may arise in the event of a new wave of coronavirus infections, a decisive role will be dictated by the flu and pneumococcal vaccination strategies that will be implemented by the regions. The Region of Lazio has also approved mandatory flu vaccination for all those over the age of 65 and for healthcare professionals from 15 September of the current year.

If not vaccinated, health workers will temporarily be unable to carry out their work while the elderly will not be able to access centres and gathering places that do not allow for correct social distancing. The Region of Campania has also chosen to move in the same direction, deliberating the obligation of flu vaccination for over65s and for children aged between 6 months and 6 years.

Among the numerous Communication Projects that all Italian Regions are working on, Sardinia, in the wake of the encouraging successes achieved in the 2019-2020 flu season (which, thanks to the synergistic activity of all the health bodies in the region, saw an increase in vaccination coverage of + 9% compared to the previous season), is devising Communication Campaigns aimed at the general public and which will include the widest range of recipients possible (albeit with particular reference to cohorts of populations at risk and to Healthcare workers).

Vaccinarsinsardegna.org once again wishes to reiterate, even more so in this delicate moment in history, the importance of vaccination for the prevention of seasonal flu, and of the sequelae related to it. Flu vaccination is therefore not only a life-saving weapon in the fight against influenza, but also a necessary tool to enable a quicker and easier diagnosis of COVID-19 infections and as such a more conscious and widespread uptake is urged among the public.

We invite all our users to keep visiting our website so as not to miss future updates and our virtual consultancy service is constantly available if any further information or clarification is needed. The vaccinarsinsardegna.org team is always on hand via the Section "Contact us” which can be accessed at the link https://www.vaccinarsinsardegna.org/en/contact-us.

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