According to what experts say, between October 2021 and May 2022, flu cases may be stronger, due to loss of immunity. This loss of immunity is due to the containment measures to prevent Covid-19, such as the use of masks, regular hand washing, disinfection and social distancing.
According to data presented to Jornal de Notícias by the Ricardo Jorge Institute (INSA), in the flu season of 2019/2020, 920 people died from the flu. The worst time was 2016/2017, when almost 4,500 people died.
In Europe, this year's numbers are similar. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, there have been 934 registered cases, representing a decrease of 99.4% compared to the same period last year.
In order to clarify some concerns about flu vaccination and, at the same time, vaccination against Covid-19, Emília Valadas objectively answered the questions we asked her.
Emília Valadas is a Professor at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Lisbon (FMUL), an Infectious Diseases Doctor and responsible for the University Clinic for Infectious Diseases, which mainly includes undergraduate education (year 2 subjects; year 5; elective subjects; internships in Santa Maria hospital, in other hospitals and some in African countries). She works in the infectious diseases service of the Northern Lisbon University Hospital Centre (CHULN).
Do we have immunity to get through this year's flu season, or not?
Last year, our body had no contact with the flu virus, so we didn't build protective immunity against it. She explained that this year is the most important time for us to do get the vaccine due to lack of immunity.
Between October 2020 and May 2021, there were no deaths from flu due to the measures against Covid-19. The Professor referred to some measures that should remain in society's daily life to keep the death rate low.
Emília Valadas agrees that we should wear a mask when going to hospital or health centre, as a means of preventing contact with new diseases and viruses that may be circulating in these places of greater contagion. But how are we going to regain this immunity? The answer is simple, through exposure to the virus, but ideally, “through exposure to the vaccine”.
She says that this is perhaps the worst year because we can be infected simultaneously with both viruses, in this case, the flu virus and covid-19, or another respiratory virus that may arise. The clinical picture in these two viruses is quite identical and this brings problems regarding diagnosis, clinical approach and treatment. As an example, Emília Valadas reveals that in a covid hospital in China, a study found that about half of the people hospitalized with covid-19 also had another concomitant respiratory infection.
The flu vaccines used each year always refer to the viruses identified in the previous year, therefore, according to the Professor, this year there is some difficulty in creating a vaccine because we had little dissemination of the flu virus.
Another immediate consequence is the fact that we are not able to pay as much attention to other diseases that continue their normal course. This means that chemotherapies will be postponed, and diagnoses and surgeries will be delayed because hospitals may be full of people with Covid and flu.
Right now, we have two vaccines being administered at the same time and many people have expressed their concern about taking both together. Out of curiosity, she recalled the moment when Portuguese soldiers went to Africa and had to take very strong injections.
"We shouldn't be afraid to take the vaccine", she said, adding that because they are administered simultaneously, it does not increase the risk, except if in the last few months, before taking the vaccine, there has been some neurological disease, more specifically, Guillain-Barré disease. In these cases, there should be greater care, but it is "very rare".
In addition to the pandemic, which we are still experiencing, climate change is another consequence, causing the emergence of new infectious diseases.
Finally, we had to ask the question about the 5th wave of Covid-19 in Portugal. She stated that she is optimistic, although she does not agree with the type of information that is passed on to the population, saying that it should be done differently and more effectively.
The Faculty of Medicine of the University of Lisbon (FMUL) held the flu vaccination campaign for students, professors and employees. In this vaccination process, the students themselves vaccinated each other, a unique initiative in the country.
One of the main objectives of this campaign is to vaccinate students in the clinical years, who can be the transporters of the infection into the hospital, in this case, to patients who are more fragile. Vaccination takes place at the Reynaldo dos Santos Building and the scientific coordination is under the responsibility of Professor Thomas Hanscheid.
The FMUL is committed to this vaccination process, in order to protect everyone who moves in the hospital environment and where contagion with new diseases is most likely.
Ana Filipa Salvado and Carolina Palma, both year 6 students of the Integrated Master Degree in Medicine (IMDM), told us about their experience of vaccinating their colleagues, professors and FMUL employees.
"Like what happened in the previous academic year, students in year 6 of the IMDM were given the opportunity to vaccinate other colleagues, professors and FMUL employees. As it was the first time that I participated in a vaccination campaign, I must admit that I was a little nervous before the 1st round. I wasn't sure what I was going to do or if I was going to be able to carry out what was asked of me. However, thanks to the help of Professor Thomas Hänscheid and Professor Emília Valadas, everything went well! Although it was never necessary to ask for their help, knowing that they were present and could intervene at any time gave me a feeling of greater security, thus making me calmer and able to do a good job (at least no one complained of pain during the jab!).
This vaccination campaign was a very gratifying experience. It allowed me to acquire a new practical skill at the same time as I saw colleagues and professors".
“Medical students are an integral part of the health ecosystem in our country. Our contribution can, and, in my opinion, should be encouraged in order to streamline large-scale processes, such as the flu vaccination. In this case, year 6 volunteers were able to participate in this initiative, allowing us to vaccinate a large number of colleagues and employees from the entire FMUL community.
Furthermore, this was an excellent opportunity to put into practice not only theoretical knowledge, but also our ability to communicate and relate to people, in a year when this component of the degree was much challenged”.